An extraordinary story was unearthed, placing the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in a frame hitherto unknown, when Sunday Island’s investigative journalist Shamindra Ferdinando interviewed a former Head of the Peace Secretariat, diplomat John Gooneratne. It’s a point of departure from which social scientists can research for conclusions on the CFA.
According to popular belief, the Norwegians, on the instigation of the LTTE, rammed the CFA down the throat of Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was presumed that the then administration was given few options by Norway as at that time the militarily was depicted as weak compared to the LTTE and the ground conditions were deemed insecure and unstable.
It was held out that options were virtually non-existent and peace which was paramount was available at a price. The CFA was marketed as an instrument of peace. The defense forces were aghast about its contents. Expectations (post-CFA) of no explosions and assassinations were attractive and the agreement itself was both lauded and denigrated.
During the pause in the fighting the guns were silenced and the public made secure - for a while. Furtively, the LTTE utilized the provisions in the CFA to further their goal of achieving their objectives. They tried to goad the UNP and UPFA governments to react to their provocative acts; but both maintained remarkable restraint and did not stray from the path of peace.
With the LTTE exploiting the CFA to their advantage, the benefits conferred on the Tigers were exposed. The defenders of the CFA made excuses for its many lapses. These included the Norwegians not giving adequate time even to get the President’s consent, it was a rushed agreement, it was said. The LTTE was adamantly insisting on obnoxious provisions. In the circumstances, the best was extracted for the sake of peace. The constraints imposed prevented introducing the required safeguards.
Do these assertions appear true, after John Gooneratne’s revelations? Does it expose the enormity of our stupidity?
We signed the CFA with our eyes open. So implies the then senior official of the Peace Secretariat, the reliable and respected Gooneratne: "CFA went through several drafting stages… the Peace Secretariat presented its view, reactions and suggestions to the SL chief negotiator Prof G.L. Peiris… and as the process continued, the CFA was gradually completed". Those words stand uncontested.
Here is the narration of John Gooneratne appearing in the Sunday Island:
Q: When did you first see a copy of the CFA? Did the Government of Sri Lanka receive an opportunity to discuss the CFA before finalizing it?
JG: The CFA went through several drafting stages, when the Peace Secretariat presented its views, reactions and suggestions to the SL Chief negotiator, Prof. G.L. Peiris, what you can call the political level. And as the process continued, the CFA was gradually completed. The timing and completion of any unsettled issues would have been done at the political level, when the final document was signed by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The government would naturally have had an opportunity to see and approve what the final document would contain. [Sunday Island 29.5.2011]
The CFA is a homemade cake with local ingredients from a supermarket, baked by the cooks that went to market. It shows the extent of servility to the LTTE and the lack of intellectual capacity to see a crisis in the making. Gooneratne’s most telling observation is "The government would naturally have had opportunity to see and approve what the final document would contain". No doubt, much of the artwork had its origin in Kilinochchi. Conceding is as faulty as colluding and concealing. It’s three-in-one.
Deceptive hostilities were undertaken by the LTTE under cover of the CFA to gain facilities. Finally the LTTE took to arms again with such devastating intensity to make the CFA the most deceitful piece of writing of our times. The LTTE committed 5,461 violations of the CFA on the Scandinavian scorecard.
The UNP has to carry responsibility with their two principle players in the peace process, Wickremasinghe and Pieris, having reviewed the several drafts before it reached its final stage and seeing and approving the final document.
Knowing John Gooneratne, it can be assumed that this very senior official of the Peace Secretariat would have presented a detailed dossier of the pros and cons of the CFA to the chief negotiator. Possibly G.L.Peiris approved the final document, being submissive to his then master’s instructions, and yielded lamely to provisions that events proved to be damaging to national security. This said in Peiris’ defense, leaves Wickremesinghe more exposed as Prime Minister. Otherwise, the present Foreign Minister is collectively culpable. Leave it to history to judge.
In fairness, this takes the heat off the Norwegians as it was alleged (including by this writer who was mistaken) that they compelled Sri Lanka to enter into the agreement. Norway has been wronged by incorrect interpretations being made due to the paucity of hard evidence to the contrary. Their loyalty and partiality to the LTTE is legendary. Yet they did not embarrass the UNP Government over the allegations made against them. They could have spoken up but chose to maintain a stoic silence as facilitators.
The CFA was signed voluntarily after study and we are more at fault than the Norwegians for that since we are obliged to safeguard our own interests. Naturally the word ‘interests’ cover the present and foreseeable future. The document signed reflects poorly on the draftsmen’s lack of foresight. It could be contended that this was a requirement of the time to usher peace at any price. Mahinda Rajapakse too continued with the CFA until Mavil Aru.
After a regime change, a successor government abrogating an agreement already in place would have brought a barrage of hostile reactions from the international community. The CFA was revoked at a charmed moment when the Scandinavian monitors deserted their posts after an ultimatum to leave was delivered by the Tigers. The LTTE provided a dream opening at Mavil Aru by depriving the community of the basic right to water. Circumstances left the International Community without a justifiable counter to estop the abrogation of the CFA.
Yet there were previous incidents that the Rajapakse regime could have seized to revoke the CFA such as the attempted assassinations on the Defense Secretary and the Army Commander. It did not and allowed it to linger longer.
The UNP must take the rap for entering into a lop-sided CFA with the LTTE knowingly and willingly. There does not appear to have been infinite duress, compulsion, haste or arm-twisting. They took their time over several drafts at the described political level, John Gooneratne has boldly named. The masterpiece (CFA) violated 5,461 times by the LTTE by the official count and still more unaccounted misdemeanors was signed covertly with the knowledge of only a few. Gooneratne has unlocked a treasure trove for researchers to probe.
The UNP held that the CFA was beneficial and continued to place faith in it. Their showpiece exhibits supporting this stance are the defection of the Karuna Group and the war weariness the peace exercise supposedly created among the LTTE cadres. Neither factor was exploited to the advantage of the UNP government. They slept over it.
Wickremasinghe and Peiris campaigned at the first presidential election Rajapaksa won extolling the virtues of the CFA and the importance of maintaining a peace accord with the LTTE.
In keeping with his known integrity and being tenacious, Wickremesinghe stands by his decision. He has made many fatal decisions but taking responsibility for decisions is admirable. Peiris remains silent on the CFA but presently expresses passionate patriotic opinions in the aftermath of the war in keeping with the office he acquired after shifting positions belatedly.
It’s for future historians to interpret the CFA’s total impact on Sri Lanka. If not for Sunday Island revealing salient facts, the truth would have remained buried forever. It has opened a window for social scientists to study and unfold the story behind a perfidious agreement.
To me it was an act of folly due to lack of prudence by small minds. On the flip side, peace was achieved though short-lived, as a result of the LTTE’s unreliability. It is prudent to leave conclusions to historians to determine after a searching evaluation.
~ www.island.lk ~ By Gomin Dayasri