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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

UNP ponders direct talks with LTTE?

11 May 1997

The Tamil parties have had many rounds of talks with the UNP since the Parliamentary Select Committee began its deliberations in 1995. The UNP has stressed the need to bring the LTTE into the picture at most of these meetings. The Tamil parties assumed for a long that the United National Party was doing this to avoid making a commitment on any of the fundamental issues of the Tamil question.

It now appears that the UNP may seriously be pursuing the idea of ultimately having a direct dialogue with the LTTE. Reliable sources in the east claim that the party had had some communication through informal channels with the Tigers recently with the view to exploring their position on the question of a dialogue to resolve the conflict. It is understood that the LTTE's response has been negative. The organization attacked the Chandrika-Ranil pact as a Sinhala alliance aimed at isolating the Tamil cause internationally and crushing it militarily.

The UNP's Batticaloa District MP Alisahir Moulana has strongly advocated a dialogue with the Tigers in interviews given to the Tamil press. He was also partly responsible for the arrangements which led to the first official discussion between the LTTE and representatives of eastern Muslims since 1990. The UNP will certainly decline any official acknowledgment of this development even if the reports from the east are correct.

The simple political fact of an intended or real contact between the party and the LTTE is that it will help swing the Tamil vote in the northeast, the hill country and the rest of the island towards the UNP.

The next political move the UNP has to make in the direction of consolidating and building on the Tamil support which it secured at the local government elections is to show that it is keen to solve the conflict by beginning a dialogue with the Tigers.

Most Tamil parties are inclined to suspect the UNP of eyeing the Tamil vote when the party talks about the need to bring the LTTE into the peace process. The TULF MP for Trincomalee Mr. Thangathurai recently told a group of UNP parliamentarians who had mentioned to him the need to bring the Tigers into the peace process, "Do not expect the LTTE to engage in fruitless talks. They will not waste their time like what we are doing (sic). The northeast is the traditional Tamil homeland for them and that has to be accepted; and there are other matters which they will not compromise on. Have you changed your attitude on these matters? What is the point in inviting them for talks if your stand on the fundamental issues concerning the Tamil problem remains the same ?"

Referring to this later, he commented " The Sinhala parties want to get the goodwill of the Tamils; and only for that purpose they say there should be a dialogue with the LTTE."

Despite what Tamil politicians like Thangathurai might say about the UNP's ulterior motives, there is a distinct possibility that the bitterness the Tamils currently harbour against the Chandrika regime might translate into votes for the UNP at the next elections if it continues to insist on talks with the LTTE. The majority of Tamils voted for the UNP at the local government elections not because they love that party but because they abhor the PA for what it is doing to them. (Sapumalpura for intance) Let the UNP make no mistake about this.

On the other hand if the UNP is keen to establish a line of communication with the intention of also exploring the possibility of preparing a common ground for a future dialogue on some fundamental issues concerning the resolution of the Eelam War, it has to be supported by the Tamil parties irrespective of their differences and geopolitical pressures.

Many have tried to persuade the UNP into reaching some basic consensus with the PA on the package.

India has been particularly keen that the UNP should not impede Chandrika's effort to have a settlement in place. India of course was looking at the matter from a perspective shaped by its concerns about Tamil Nadu - that the Tigers should be de-legitimized politically and marginalised militarily as a means of contianing the revival of militant Tamil nationalism in that state. Chandrika, in their view, was on the right track by prosecuting the war relentlessly in the northeast while pushing for a political settlement with the moderate Tamils. The formula had worked in Punjab, Nagaland and seems to be having some tangible effect in Kashmir. The UNP, in other words, was primarily seen by a section of bureaucrats in Delhi as an ingredient in a formula ultimately intended to ensure the stability of Tamil Nadu.

I can see that the UNP is quite aware of the fact that Delhi's formula for resolving the Eelam conflict over the years cannot work in the Sri Lankan situation. What appear to be the enlightened and realistic sections of the party seem to feel that peace has to be restored first to put the country back on a firm footing rather than slowly and imperceptibly bleed the island with a political-military strategy that does not take the specifics of the Eelam conflict into account.

The UNP has to soon decide whether it is just going opportunistically exploit the impression that it is keen to get the Tigers involved in the peace process or whether it is going to earnestly apply itself to developing a solid and viable basis for conflict resolution.

It will be a good beginning if the party can stop developing and shaping its thoughts on the Tamil question as reactions to the elusive steps taken by the Chandrika regime to find a settlement to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

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