HON. PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT
Honourable Speaker, On the 21st of last month (21st April 2003), Dr Anton Balasingham, Political Advisor and Chief Negotiator to the LTTE, addressed me a letter in which he informed me that the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being, giving reasons for doing so. I replied Dr. Balasingham, on the 29th of April 2003 responding to the concerns he had raised. I am tabling for the information of Parliament both Dr. Balasingham’s letter and my reply. I would like to point out to the House that as indicated in Dr. Balasingham’s letter, the LTTE was suspending their participation in the negotiations for the time being. It was not giving notice of an end to negotiations, nor were they making a statement that they were going back to war. In fact, Dr. Balasingham in other statements he has made on the matter has been categorical that this was not an indication of resumption of war and that their commitment to seek a negotiated political solution remained. I can state too, that in the opinion of our friends the Donor nations, with whom we are in contact they see no prospect of a resumption of war. Members of the House will be aware that interruptions of this nature in peace processes have occurred before in our country and that this is the second interruption we have experienced. In the peace processes of other countries too suspension of negotiations from time to time is not uncommon. You will recall Honourable Speaker that in my statement to Parliament on the coming into force of the Ceasefire Agreement on 22nd February 2002, I said that the road to peace was going to have more pitfalls and setbacks than successes. Let me recall the background in which the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and the LTTE was initiated. At that time, the two parties had not formally met and the ground work was prepared by the Norwegian Government. We have had several months of talks and some considerable progress has been made. The people’s yearning for peace has been fulfilled and there is now an absence of war. In fact a new environment has evolved. We might even say that we have progressed faster than we envisaged at the time we set out on this journey taking up issues not contemplated in February 2002. For example, the LTTE were agreeable to our suggestion relating to the preparation of a comprehensive document in respect of human rights applicable to all stages of the negotiating process and including suitable provision regarding monitoring and enforcement. There was, moreover, explicit agreement relating to a political resolution of the ethnic conflict by means of sharing of power based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The very progress that has been made has been a catalyst for the emergence of fresh issues. We are now at a stage when it is evident that substantial progress has been made in respect of the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement, and we move forward into a further phase of the evolving process. Our aim at this time is to keep the process going and continue to be on the alert. The important thing is that there is no question of going back to war. Mr Speaker, Permit me to identify what the real issues are at this time. Firstly, there is the question of sharing of resources. The whole economy which was run down by two decades of war has to be kick-started. The Regaining Sri Lanka is our strategic framework for the long term economic development of Sri Lanka. One of the objectives for high growth mentioned in this document is to generate resources for the long term development of the North-East. The fear of the LTTE is that all the resources we get will go to the South. At the same time, the people in the South fear that all the moneys will go to the North. Neither of this will happen. We decided to assess our requirements both in terms of the needs of the North-East and what we required in the medium term for the Regaining Sri Lanka strategy. Therefore, we did not hold the usual Donor Conference last year. Instead the Royal Norwegian Government convened the Oslo Conference last September, where the Donor nations decided to pledge aid for emergency assistance. It was at Oslo that it was decided to call the Tokyo Conference to pledge aid for the development of the whole country including the North-East. The LTTE has a role in the rebuilding of the North-East. The Oslo meeting delineated this role and the part the international community will play in it. In Tokyo, we will have, the Needs Assessment Report on the North-East, and the four adjacent Districts done in consultation with all stakeholders, the Regaining Sri Lanka and a bridging document before the Donors. We expect to receive the funding which would make both these objectives realisable. In the meantime, in our interaction with the Donor community, we have taken up our immediate and medium term needs. I am pleased to record, we are well on the way to raising the development assistance we require for this purpose. I am optimistic that the international community both through bilateral and multilateral means will make available an amount of around one Billion Dollars a year for the next three years, which is our estimated requirement to attain the national development goals. I would also inform the House, that with regard to immediate support for the North-East, three Multilateral agencies, the UN system, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have determined the amounts required for the North-East and the adjacent four Districts in consultation with both parties. Of course, it must be realised that as is usual, all of this is not going to come in one tranche and will be available at different points depending on our capacity and performance. The second general issue I would like to refer is, how to make life easier for the people living in the North-East. The major issue of the North-East is that of the Internally Displaced. At the time of the Ceasefire Agreement, the number of families displaced was approximately 200,000. Today, that number has been greatly reduced. As of April this year, 75,000 families have voluntarily re-settled. To help them integrate in the community, we have increased the Unified Assistance Scheme from Rs. 15,000/- to Rs. 25,000/- per family. Already, about 10,000 families have received the increased UAS support. In addition to making land available which would involve clearing of 2 million landmines, there are some major issues in respect of resettlement. One of these is, that of title to land where legal challenges in Courts by claimants can delay the process and the Government will have to pay large amounts as compensation. We are obtaining the advise of the Attorney General on this question. Another of the major problems we are facing is that of building capacity in the administrative machinery in the North-East, which has been run down over the years. It was an administration only able to barely supply the day-to-day requirements of the population, like providing rations for people in welfare camps; it was not geared to development. There had been no recruitment of officers for years. In fact the Mullaitivu District Secretary has no office or residence. What we inherited was an administration without the capacity for development work. This was the basic reason for the inability to move forward rapidly in implementation. The institution of SIHRN, (the Sub committee for Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs) was therefore a crucial one for commencing immediate development work. We are currently working out new mechanisms to co-ordinate the work of the Central Government Agencies and the North-East Provincial Council. This would call for the strengthening of SIHRN. Normalisation of civilian life is another issue which has received priority. This necessarily involves the High Security Zones and the manner in which the military and security concerns have to be balanced with humanitarian civilian needs. As the security situation improves, the military presence will be less needed. When normalcy returns the large presence of troops in Jaffna will not be necessary and the stationing of troops will be as it is in the rest of the country. National security concerns will of course be taken into consideration at every stage. In moving forward in this area, the question of timing is critical when humanitarian and security issues are balanced. Just as the views of the civil society are being made available, so will we need the advice we get from the armed forces. There have been some issues which continue to remain unresolved. For example, in Jaffna city, moving out of the Five One Divisional Headquarters and the Five One Two Brigade Command Headquarters from Subash and Gnanam Hotels and some houses in the vicinity to the Jaffna Fort. That matter as the House knows, is still awaiting resolution. Since there seems to be some misconception in the public mind about this matter I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the position and to state categorically to the House that the proposed relocation does not amount to any change whatsoever with regard to the High Security Zone, in Palali, but is limited to arrangements within the city of Jaffna. As regards the High Security Zones and de-escalation we have obtained relevant expertise from India. General Nambiar, one time Commander of the UN Forces in Bosnia, and present Director of the United Services Institute of India, is the Advisor to the Government in regard to the process of de-escalation. He will come to Sri Lanka today bringing his report. He will meet the President, the Minister of Defence, the Commander of the Army and me. A recent issue which has arisen in regard to disengagement of forces is in the seas The SLMM is addressing the issues, and the two parties have been asked to respond. In this context we have obtained the services of Vice Admiral P J Jacob, former Vice Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy to advise the Government on issues relating to the sea. I think the House will be happy to know that he will also be arriving in the country today. These issues will take some time to discuss and move forward to agreement . And finally, we have to obtain compliance with the Ceasefire Agreement. We need to consider the whole issue of human rights, and the fulfilment of Human Rights norms in its various manifestations. In this connection one major issue that has arisen is the recent assassinations of intelligence operatives and political activists. I would also like to inform this House that the Police and the Armed Forces have been instructed to take all necessary steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes. The Government accepts the need to address the concerns of the Muslim community in the North-East. Firstly, we have to arrange for the Muslim delegation to meet soon with the LTTE to work out the modalities for a Muslim Delegation to take part in the plenary discussion. It is an imperative requirement at this stage of the deliberations that a delegation articulating the aspirations of the Muslim community should have the opportunity of participating at discussions relevant to the Muslims at the plenary sessions. There are also the future political arrangements for the North-East to be dealt with - in fact the core issues. As we move on from the Ceasefire Agreement, the Government is open to having wide ranging discussions on the many issues that are represented here – especially regarding the extent of devolution of power and the units of devolution. We will in consultation with all parties proceed to develop a Road Map towards this objective. This will set out with clarity the sequence in which the substantive issues will be addressed in the unfolding process, so that the objective sought to be accomplished and the means by which this goal will be reached, becomes apparent. Mr Speaker, I would like to conclude by keeping the House informed of the current steps we are taking to bring about a situation where negotiations could be resumed. As I have said before, the safety-net of the international community which we have brought about is being of great help to us at this time. We have had a firm expression of views by our friendly countries, including the United States, UK, Japan, France and India. Our facilitator and friends have been very active during this period speaking with interested parties. As we recognise the issues that have emerged between the parties, we have been strengthened in our resolve to approach this issue in a practical manner. The international community whose goodwill is abundantly at our disposal is engaged in a professional exercise of shuttle diplomacy which has already begun to show promising results. For example, Mr Erik Solheim of the Norwegian Delegation has been meeting Dr Balasingham. There has been contact between Mr Vidar Helgessen and the LTTE leadership. In regard to India which is always a relevant factor, Minister Milinda Moragoda has paid a visit to Delhi and been in contact with the Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha and Brijesh Mishra, Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister. So have the Members of the Norwegian Delegation and Japanese Delegation. Last Sunday, I had meetings with the Norwegian and the Japanese Delegations. I could tell you that Mr Helgessen met Dr Anton Balasingham yesterday and Erik Solheim will be meeting Dr Balasingham on Thursday. I will be meeting the Norwegians again on their return from the Vanni. The Foreign Minister of Norway, Jan Peterson will be visiting us soon and Christina Rocca from the United States will be here next week. Overall, the Norwegians are dealing with the peace process, while the Japanese are focussing on the Tokyo Conference. All of this opportunity will be made use of for further discussions. We have also made known the current situation to all of the interested partners such as to all members of the international community and they too would be using their good offices to see that the process is re-commenced as early as possible. On behalf of the Government, I can assure you Mr Speaker, I will be keeping the Party leaders informed of the developments as they occur.