Govt, LTTE ‘steadfastly preparing for peace’ - SLMM

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 30 July 2002, 15:26 GMT]
(News Feature) International monitors this week hailed the ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers and praised both sides for adhering to it. The agreement, which came into effect on February 23 (referred to as D-day in the document), has several deadlines by which specified actions to restore normalcy should be completed. The upbeat statement by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) comes as the last of the listed deadlines (D+160) looms on Friday, August 2.

“The ceasefire has now lasted for more than five months, the longest cessation of hostilities since the beginning of the conflict,” the SLMM said in its statement. “Both parties have successfully refrained from military operations.”

“The government and the Liberation Tigers are preparing, not for war, but a lasting peace through gradual and steady implementation of the ceasefire agreement,” the SLMM said.

“Both parties have shown their dedication to peace in the following manner: steady implementation of the ceasefire agreement, admirable restraint in volatile situations and Achievement in cooperation and coordination,” the SLMM said.

“Through this both parties have managed to remove some of the uncertainty and distrust created by decades of conflict and started to create mutual confidence. … it is the conclusion of SLMM that both parties look at war as a thing of the past. The government and the LTTE are steadfastly preparing for peace

The SLMM felt that recruitment and training efforts by both sides could not be considered ceasefire violations: “The Balance of Power between the parties is extremely important since is can be considered as one of the Cornerstones of the Ceasefire Agreement. Normal recruitment and training is therefore to be regarded not as a preparation for war.”

The SLMM also played down recent confrontations at sea where Sri Lankan gunboats intercepted and fired on Sea Tiger boats. “[These] have increased somewhat during the last weeks but should not pose a serious threat to the Ceasefire,” the SLMM said.

“The preparations for ground transport of Sri Lanka soldiers on the [LTTE-controlled sections of the] A9 road and sea transport of LTTE cadres in the waters off the East Coast are in the final phase and will start in the very near future,” the SLMM. The latter has been the subject of long running and complex discussions.

Citing complaints of extortion and underage recruitment, the SLMM said it “trusts that The LTTE will live up to the expectations that people have for their just governance and responsibility.”

The delays in the implementation of the ceasefire has hampered the restoration of normalcy, which the Liberation Tigers insist must precede negotiations if they are to be meaningful.

Tamil political parties and civil society organisation protest that the Sri Lanka military has failed to meet the earlier deadlines of D+30, D+60 and D+90 which required armed forces personnel to vacate occupied schools, places of worship and public places, lift the restrictions on fishing and other measures to restore normalcy across the war-torn north and east.

Recently the LTTE reiterated its position on the restoration of normalcy as a necessary step to direct talks, but indicated it would not be looking for absolute results in this regard, comments which were this week welcomed by the SLMM.

“Especially encouraging is the LTTE’s responsible and sensible statement that they will not insist on being technical in demanding a 100% implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement as a precondition for talks with the Government,” the SLMM said.

Obliquely acknowledging the delays in the military withdrawals, the head of the SLMM, Major General Trond Furuhovde, said: "In some cases the timetable put forward in the Ceasefire Agreement has been quite optimistic.”

“The SLMM has during the last months accepted delays in implementation of certain issues and it is good to see that both parties have shown a mutual understanding for that and are still moving forward," he said further.

Whilst the Sri Lanka military has stepped up its withdrawals from public spaces, local residents in many places the troops have merely set up camp in the immediate vicinity, rendering the sites equally unusable by the public.

Nevertheless, the SLMM, said: “Out of a total of 159 places of worship listed, only 2 are still occupied by the government forces and 3 partly occupied. All together 19 places of worship are not yet accessible to the public since they are situated within ‘high security zones’”

“The great majority of school buildings have been vacated, leaving only 1 school occupied in Mannar, 1 in Trincomalee and 11 in Jaffna District, or a total of 13 schools, most of them within ‘high security zones’”

Sri Lankan Defence Minister Tilak Marapana told Reuters this week that a lack of time and money to build new camps to house thousands of soldiers had delayed the planned evacuations. Marapana said, despite the ceasefire, he did not see any huge savings yet for the military budget, which equals more than five percent of gross domestic product.

Marapana said the military also continued its normal recruitment drives and was prepared for a possible future war and added he expected the LTTE to do the same.

"We know they are training and stockpiling. That is understandable," he told Reuters. "They wouldn't want to be caught napping and be on the receiving end."


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