Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

Did the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) hand over the North to LTTE?

To one Mr. N. Ethirveerasingam, on a comment he made on an article I wrote (The Commissioner of Elections: A close friend’s critique) and appeared in Groundviews, I responded: “Quite recently I read a paper at an international conference held in Colombo which I wish to summarize having read your comment to understand the political hypocrisy in the south. Hope Groundviews will agree to publish it.” This article is the fulfilling of my promise to him.

Since 2002, during the run up to any poll- i.e. Presidential, Parliamentary, Provincial or Local Authority – a criticism against the Peace Process of the United National Front (UNF) Government had been that a specified area in the north had been “handed over on a platter to the Tigers”. The intention here is not to discuss this complaint but to convey the reality.

It is somewhat difficult because of LTTE behavior during the peace process, proved by the violation statistics provided by the Monitors, which become a substantial missile thrown in the face whenever discussing this subject.  When other facts such as previous political commitments, continuity of a process, improvements to earlier peacemaking tools and the integrated nature of peacemaking by the UNF are overlooked, it is no wonder to observe difficulties arising.

Article 1 of the CFA dealing with security was the most criticized by anti-UNF / anti-CFA opinion makers. The criticism was on the handing over of a specified area to the LTTE.  The critics included President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Peoples Alliance (PA) Ministers, Opposition political groups like the JVP and JHU, many journalists, editors and commentators

I opine that these critics did not know the true status or deliberately hid it from the public. Most likely it was the latter. It motivated whipping ethnic chauvinism and emotions during elections where the majority could be stirred to gain politically. To prove that ‘separation of forces’ was  the adoption of the provisions espoused by President Kumaratunga by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COH) signed between her and Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1995[1], a comparison is made in Table 1.

Table 1-Comparison between CFA and the COH regarding Separation of Forces

CFA between UNF and LTTE 2002 COH between PA and LTTE- 1995
1.2 Total cessation of all military actions. No direct firing of weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions, and activities of deep penetration units (DPUs). 1. There shall be no offensive operations by either party during this period and offensive operations will be considered a violation of the agreement.

4. Acts such as sabotage, bomb explosions, abductions, assassinations, intimidation directed at any political group, party or individual will amount to offensive operation.

1.3.Sri Lankan armed forces shall continue to perform legitimate task of safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE. 3. The Navy and Air Force will continue to perform legitimate task of safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country from external aggression, without in anyway engaging in offensive operations against LTTE or causing any obstructions to legitimate and bona fide fishing in specified areas.
1.4. Where Forward Defense Localities (FDLs) have been established the Sri Lanka armed forces and LTTE fighting formations shall hold ground with a minimum separation of 600 meters with the right of movement within 100 meters keeping an absolute minimum distance of 400 meters between them. Where existing positions are less than 400 meters no such right of movement will apply and the maximum distance will be maintained between the Parties. 2. The Parties will keep a minimum of 600 meters between them with the right of movement within 100 meters from their bunker lines keeping a minimum distance of 400 meters between them.
1.6 In areas where FDLs have not been clearly established the status quo as regards the areas controlled by GOSL and the LTTE respectively on December 24th 2001 shall continue to apply. Sub Article 1.9 is applied in addition. 2. The Security Forces and LTTE will maintain their present positions, on the ground.
1.7 The Parties shall not move munitions, explosives or military equipment into the areas controlled by the other Party. In the COH no provision was made on this action. Administratively such movement was permitted as seen from communications between he parties.

Table 1 amply proves that the COH was the forerunner to the CFA and the CFA has improved on COH contents.

Another criticism is that there was no Cabinet or parliamentary approval for the CFA. It is true. Similarly, this complaint could be made against President Kumaratunga and her government too, for not obtaining such approvals- i.e. from the Parliament. If there had been Cabinet approval granted, on the above comparison it will be unethical, unreasonable and illogical for Ministers in her Cabinet or the political organization to which they belong to be later critical of handing over of specified areas to Tigers, which had been their prior doing.

Of course, what President Kumaratunga had done is to use Executive Presidency powers of declaration of war and peace under Article 33 (e) of the Constitution. This power and authority was not in the UNF or its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, with the cohabitation problems the PA and UNF had after 2002, if this was discussed in the Cabinet it would not have seen the light of day because President Kumaratunga would have devastated the peace process for which the UNF had received a mandate at the Parliamentary Elections in December 2001.

The COH was a definitely a much weaker agreement than the CFA. As a comparison to prove the worth of the CFA over the COH the following are listed.

  • The ‘offences’ have been enlarged in the CFA (e.g. inclusion of suicide missions). These were adhered to by LTTE throughout the UNF government’s term. Additionally, the limitation made on direction of offences too has been enlarged from political groups/ individuals to military and civilians.
  • The compromise for “No suicide missions” by LTTE was “No DPU operation” by GOSL, which both Parties adhered religiously. The southern CFA critics prayed for was for no suicide missions from the LTTE, but free engagement of DPUs by the GOSL in LTTE dominated areas. During conflict this was a reasonable expectation but is it so during a peacemaking exercise, though it was and is proved a very effective, efficient and cost beneficial military tool that brought mortal fear to the LTTE?
  • Performing the task of safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty was incorporated in the CFA, though it was only against “foreign aggression” in the COH, making the latter redundant, because the threat was from a domestic terrorist organization, i.e. the LTTE and not from external aggressions.
  • In the COH this performance was permitted only to the Navy and Air Force and not for the Army. In fact, there is evidence in literature to prove that President Kumaratunga gave in more than the UNF regime,[2] probably due to this weakness in the COH.
  • The alleged “sell out” of the North and East orchestrated by critics was based on Sub Article 1.4 and 1.6 of the CFA. It is clear that Article 2 of the COH is the same and hence if there was a sell out it had been committed earlier by the critics. The morality of questioning such sell out by the CFA is hence questionable.
  • There was a weak construction in the CFA (Sub Article 1.3) which read as “without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE”. But, in action there were no constraints on engagements, as could be seen from several attacks on Sea Tigers destroying LTTE vessels and killing cadres [3] or the shooting of cadres at Kanjirankudah who invaded the Special Task Forces Camp

Irrespective of this true status the UNF was mercilessly criticized and is being bashed even now.[4]

Even in COH implementation there had been more bending backward by the Kumaratunga administration than the UNF. This could be proved by the way Kumaratunga administration agreed that the LTTE cadres could enter the government dominated areas in the East –armed and unchecked- while considering removal of check points.[5] In comparison the CFA had provision to check the unarmed LTTE cadres coming across in civilian clothing after prior intimation to the military and military managing security road blocks.


In the UNF peacemaking exercise tentative separation of forces could be justified on the following grounds:

  • The UNF approach was a continuation of the PA approach and hence the political fallout was minimal.
  • The need to identify areas under domination of each party could be achieved by “freezing boundaries.”
  • To implement Sub Article 1.9 stipulating that parties should “initially stay in the area under their respective control” could be achieved by separation of forces.
  • It was advisable to keep armed persons who had fought for decades separated until they matured to understand each other better and build relationships.
  • To implement Sub Article 1.13 permitting movement of persons, goods etc there was a need to supervise, which was possible only through check points at the boundary.
  • Sub Article 1.7 (i.e. non-transfer of arms ammunition etc) on land could be supervised if there was boundary management. At sea or in air this provision was not available.
  • For normalization exercises there was a need to maintain security. The boundaries of areas as on December 24th 2001 were not co-terminus with district boundaries and hence agreement on the boundaries was important for normalization.
  • Encroachments in areas that were dominated by the parties were not possible only if the boundaries were established. Free movement would have motivated easy encroachments thus creating problems.
  • Since there were paramilitary cadres who did not honestly oblige the CFA by handing over of arms and ammunition in their possession there was a need to supervise their movements as Sub Articles 1.11 – 1.13 provided for movement of unarmed LTTE cadres in GOSL dominated areas.
  • For SLMM to decide on reported events the need to identify areas under domination of both parties was essential and this could be achieved by freezing boundaries.

On the basis of the above facts and comparisons it is obvious that “handing over of a specified area to Tigers” is not the real truth, because if it was so the critics had done it in a worse manner in 1995. This does not prevent any one being critical of operationalizing the CFA, but denies any right for the politicians to be hypocritical as it happens now. Of course, the JVP or JHU criticizing, though incorrect, could be excused on the grounds of overt or covert non-partisanship to such previous arrangements. Concurrently, in many other peace processes, such temporary stand off situations have been arranged, even by  withdrawing certain security force units (e.g. Ireland, Aceh) and this temporary stand off should be looked at in that broader sense of peacemaking.

[1] Anton Balasingham: Politics of Duplicity: pp.64-66; Anton Balasingham: War and Peace: pp. 254-256; Presidential Secretariat Press Statement dated January 9, 1995.

[2] Anton Balasingham: War and Peace: p. 269

[3] John Gooneratne in Negotiating Peace with the Tigers” (p. 13) explains that “.Mr. Balasingham had informed Mr. Solheim that the LTTE “…were prepared to give an undertaking to the Norwegians that they would not be bringing arms by sea….they have no objection to GOSL making a statement that it would take action to prevent such activities.” The Government issued a “Statement of Intent” (February 2002), which incorporated this freedom for the Army, Navy and Air Force to intercept any transfer of arms in to Sri Lanka. Perhaps, why the LTTE never questioned the inappropriateness of attacks at sea on the ground of Article 1.3 “concession” would have been due to the revelation made by John Gooneratne.

[4] Asian Tribune (July 19th 2007) reporting on the speech made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who said that there was no country other than Sri Lanka , where the criminal act of conceding a legal area of control to terrorists has been implemented through an agreement. This was repeatedly stated by him and his ministers at all political meetings in every election and will also do so in the future.

[5] Austin Fernando: My Belly is White: Page 305

Update – 31 March 2010: The author responds to the key points in the comments following the publication of this article here.