Long road to reconciliation

Monday, 30 January 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

FIRST it was refusal to give land and police powers, then it was proposing the appointment of a senate and then it was approval of only land authority – Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has been particularly inventive over the last few weeks in changing the stance of the Government.

This, together with External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris’ announcement that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report will not be presented at the next UN meeting, has put a question mark on what the Government’s next move will be.

The Government’s familiar modus operandi of simultaneously playing to two audiences through a ‘President proposes; the ideological machinery disposes’ formula was evident in the rhetoric surrounding the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister. Denials by Peiris that talks with the TNA have ended were exercises in sophistry, befitting his track record.

While Krishna asserted that the President had committed to a “13th Amendment Plus” with regard to a political accommodation of Tamil concerns and Minister G.L. Peiris seemed to be in agreement, others in the Government spoke vehemently against it. JVP’s Trade Union Leader K.D. Lalkantha analysed these contrary events as a “film directed by the Government”.

The modus operandi is evident in the bilateral talks with the TNA as well. The Government’s negotiating team publicly offers to discuss the devolution of land and police powers, while the ideologues are unleashed to condemn it and describe the TNA as being a spoiler for bringing it up.  

While the Government claims it is committed to continuing talks with the TNA, it has changed the meaning of that claim to mean continuing talks in the multilateral platform of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which the TNA in a statement in December said it had only agreed to join once the bilateral talks ended with an agreement that could be submitted to the PSC.

Even though Prof. Peiris at a press conference on Thursday pledged to implement the LLRC proposals as soon as possible, the change in the Government’s stance towards not presenting the report to the UN could undermine the credibility of the report. The very fact that initial reports from the UK and US criticise the report for not adequately dealing with the question of accountability could be one reason for the Government not to want closer scrutiny. Moreover, if any response is made from the international community, the Government would be under greater pressure to ensure that a wider process for reconciliation is implemented.

With all these different balls in the air, the Government is under stress to keep talks with the TNA going while keeping the LLRC report in the limelight to emphasise on the actions that are being taken. The key question of land and police powers were dealt with by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who pointed out that the Government has no problem with giving land to the landless people in the north and protecting the people with the police, lending a rather flippant solution to the issue.

What happens next will depend on India’s actual leverage, the Government’s felt concern about being challenged at the UN Human Rights’ Council in March and what the TNA will resolve about the PSC when bilateral talks are concluded or continued without a substantive agreement.