ISGA entails concepts and structures of final
4 August 2004
The peace process has reached an absolute deadlock. But all
parties involved in the attempt to make permanent peace in Sri Lanka
- the UPFA government, the LTTE, sundry conflict resolution experts
and the Norwegians - continue to say nice things. There is no doubt
that the ceasefire is there to stay for a while despite the
killings, attacks and the renegade factor. But the peace process (if
one may still call it so) is at a dead-end.
A critical mass of public opinion across the political spectrum in
the south weighs heavily against restarting the talks on the basis
of the LTTE's Interim Self Governing Authority proposal. I say a
critical mass because neither President Chandrika Kumaratunga's
government nor the United National Front is in a position to defy
this powerful body of opinion and restart the talks on the basis of
the ISGA proposal. (This critical mass of public opinion is now
growing intolerant of views that reflect the thinking on the other
side of the island's ethnic divide).
The LTTE has clearly stated that there is absolutely no alternative
to the ISGA for restarting the talks.
If the Norwegians or any other foreign country that is desirous of
getting the peace talks going again entertain illusions that a
compromise is still possible between the Tigers and Colombo on the
content and agenda for resuming peace talks, then they are making a
It is futile for anyone to keep harping on fresh confidence building
measures between the two sides.
The hacked refrain would be pleasing to the ears of conflict
resolution and conflict transformation specialists but the bare fact
of the matter is that no confidence building measure is good enough
to coax the parties towards a middle ground. No political leader in
the south is prepared to risk his/her reputation and career for the
sake of restarting the talks on the basis of the ISGA.
The argument that negotiations on ISGA proposal would also include,
by necessity, the basic concepts and structures of a permanent
political settlement to the ethnic conflict falls on deaf ears.
One does not see anything in the distant horizon that can break the
absolute impasse in the peace process today.
The government cannot prevaricate on the ISGA for long. The critical
mass of opinion in the south is building up further towards the
total rejection of the LTTE's proposal.
The UPFA Government has to be bit more prudent in rejecting the ISGA
totally as a blueprint for a separate state (as it did when it was
in the opposition) because international opinion would not
completely back such a rejection.
If the government of Sri Lanka does not have the full backing of
India, the US and the European Union in telling the LTTE once and
for all that talks cannot restart on the basis of the ISGA, then it
would be a tad difficult to successfully coerce the LTTE, short of
waging a full scale war again, to accept a middle ground which would
be saleable in the south.
If the ISGA was the zany creation of a reclusive megalomaniac and
his 'vernacular' educated henchmen with no parallel or precedent
then we could reasonably expect the three blocs that have a say on
Sri Lanka's peace process to fully back a firm decision by the UPFA
to throw the LTTE proposal into the dustbin.
This is why the LTTE and its legal experts studied the Machakos
Protocol in formulating the ISGA. In fact one can see that some
basic aspects of the LTTE proposal is modelled on the Machakos
The US and its ally UK were principally involved in exerting
considerable pressure on the Government of Sudan to make it accept
the basic principles of the Protocol. The Norwegians facilitated the
talks between the main rebel group demanding the right of
self-determination for the non-Muslim people of oil rich South Sudan
and the Islamic Government in Khartoum. The European Union and India
too were involved in the sidelines of the Sudan peace process that
led to the signing of the Machakos Protocol in July 2002.
The international parties that backed the 'Protocol' saw it mainly
as the basis for "a negotiated, peaceful, comprehensive resolution
to the Sudan Conflict within the Unity of Sudan" (Second Para of the
Preamble) although it has a clear provision for holding a referendum
at the end of the interim period to decide whether the people of
South Sudan wish to remain part of that state or want to secede.
Actually the LTTE and its legal experts have a more compelling
preamble to the ISGA for making their case than what the South
Sudanese have been able to do despite powerful backing from the US.
International opinion may find it difficult to reject the argument
that the ISGA, like the Machakos Protocol, is a good historical
opportunity to convince Tamils to remain within a united Sri Lanka.
The following are some relevant portions of the Machakos Protocol:
1.1 That the unity of the Sudan, based on the free will of its
people democratic governance, accountability, equality, respect, and
justice for all citizens of the Sudan is and shall be the priority
of the parties and that it is possible to redress the grievances of
the people of South Sudan and to meet their aspirations within such
1.2 That the people of South Sudan have the right to control and
govern affairs in their region and participate equitably in the
1.3 That the people of South Sudan have the right to
self-determination, inter alia, through a referendum to determine
their future status.
1.4 That religion, customs, and traditions are a source of moral
strength and inspiration for the Sudanese people.
1.5 That the people of the Sudan share a common heritage and
aspirations and accordingly agree to work together to:
1.6 Establish a democratic system of governance taking account of
the cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and linguistic diversity and
gender equality of the people of the Sudan.
1.7 Find a comprehensive solution that addresses the economic and
social deterioration of Sudan and replaces war not just with peace,
but also with social, political and economic justice which respects
the fundamental human and political rights of all the Sudanese
1.9 Formulate a repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation,
reconstruction and development plan to address the needs of those
areas affected by the war and redress the historical imbalances of
development and resource allocation.
1.11 Undertake the challenge by finding a framework by which these
common objectives can be best realized and expressed for the benefit
of all the Sudanese.
2.4.1 The composition of the Assessment and Evaluation Commission
shall consist of equal representation from the GOS and the SPLM/A,
and not more than two (2) representatives, respectively, from each
of the following categories:
1.Member states of the IGAD Sub-Committee on Sudan (Djibouti,
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda);
2.Observer States (Italy, Norway, UK, and US); and other countries
or regional or international bodies to be agreed upon by the
2.4.2 The Parties shall work with the Commission during the Interim
Period with a view to improving the institutions and arrangements
created under the Agreement and making the unity of Sudan attractive
to the people of South Sudan.
2.5 At the end of the six (6) year interim period there shall be an
internationally monitored referendum, organized jointly by the
Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army,
for the people of South Sudan to: confirm the unity of the Sudan by
voting to adopt the system of government established under the Peace
Agreement; or to vote for secession."
It is obvious that the LTTE won't budge from its position that the
ISGA has to be the basis for restarting talks. It is also evident
that the UPFA government won't accept it unqualified. Yet the UPFA
cannot think of cutting the Gordian Knot by completely rejecting the
ISGA given international attitudes shaped by the Machakos Protocol
in recent times.
This deadlock cannot continue for long.