National Sections of the L5I:

Peace talks fail

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For the past six months in Sri Lanka political attention has been fixed on the fate of discussions between the various Tamil guerrilla groups and the United National Party (UNP) government. Also involved in these talks was Rajin Ghandi’s government in India. Neither the ‘ceasefire’ that accompanied the discussions, nor the discussions themselves were a success from the Tamils’ point of view.

Scores of Tamil civilians in the North and Eastern Provinces have continued to be butchered by the army and police, made up exclusively of members of the majority Sinhalese community. Since the horrendous pogroms of 1983 when well over 1000 Tamils were slaughtered, another 2000 have been killed by the state forces or armed Sinhalese thugs. This state orchestrated terror has led to 100,000 Tamil refugees fleeing to the state of Tamil Nadu across the narrow Palk Strait in South West India. A further 50,000 Tamils have fled to Europe.

Although the bloodletting has continued, the last year has seen significant developments. The Tamil guerillas’ successful actions earlier in the year, the desperate plight of the Sri Lankan economy and the subsequent political crisis within President Jayawardene’s UNP government have all contributed to these developments.


The All Party Conference reconciliation talks collapsed at the end of 1984 when the UNP withdrew modest concessions to the Tamils at the behest of the reactionary Buddhist clergy. After that the Tamil guerrillas mounted a new campaign against police stations, army personnel, banks and hotels. Despite savage reprisals, Jayawardene’s forces were usable to gain the upper hand.

By the spring of this year the government was coming under great pressure to do more than seek to impose a military solution on the Tamil question. The inability to contain the Tamil guerrillas was not the UNP’s only problem. The tourist industry has been decimated. The tea trade the backbone of the country’s economy took a severe blow when the price of tea plummeted from 60 rupees a kilo (£1.59) to 31 rupees in a couple of months.

In addition the fragile economic base was creaking under a growing defence budget which is expected to be in excess of 14 billion rupees this year, some 15% of GDP. Jayawardene allowed the budget to get out of control as he bought arms, tanks and helicopters from China, Pakistan and the US. He was desperate to try and impose a ‘final solution’ on the resistance of the Tamils which has made two of the country’s nine provinces ungovernable. His repression failed to stamp out resistance.


By the summer of this year the Finance Minister Ronnie de Met was forced to concede: ‘We cannot continue like this for ever. Our earnings from tourism have already declined. Foreign investments will decrease. Foreign aid will become more difficult to obtain. Production of exports will decline’.

With a Foreign Aid Group meeting, convened by the World Bank, scheduled for the 20th June to determine Sri Lanka’s aid package until the end of the decade, the political pressure mounted on the UNP to talk to the guerrillas. It was hoped that some sort of deal would, once again, create a ‘favourable investment climate’ and help restore the tourist industry.

As a result of this pressure a four phase cease fire plan was agreed preparatory to talks. This was signed on June 18th. Between July 6 13 talks were held in the Indian city of Thimpu. They were inconclusive and new talks were resumed in Delhi last August.

In truth the discussions have led to no meaningful movement on the part of Jayawardene. The guerrillas have pursued the aims of achieving elected provincial councils in the North and East, where Tamils pre dominate, together with a regional government with federal powers linking up the two provinces. They have also demanded total control of the police and judiciary in these areas and control over land settlements. The latter is extremely important to the Tamils since the government has been promoting Sinhalese settlement in Tamil areas to break up their communities.


Jayawardene’s proposals have not satisfied the various Tamil groups. In essence, the UNP has very little room to manoeuvre. As the chief party of the Sinhalese semi colonial bourgeoisie it has ever since independence in 1948 fostered and encouraged the repeated outbreaks of Sinhalese chauvinism.

In this way it has tried to cover up its own bankruptcy in the face of imperialism, and the poverty and oppression that such imperialist domination brings with it.

In Sri Lanka, splitting the working class along communal lines has prevented a unified mass resistance to the pro imperialist policies of successive UNP and SLFP governments. Hence, any real concessions to the Tamils would spark off a massive wave of chauvinist resistance which the opposition parties would have no hesitation in demagogically exploiting to oust the UNP.

The political settlement then is less aimed at satisfying the grievances of the Tamils then at calming the international money lenders and governments. The Tamils are being used as pawns, not only by the UNP, but also by Rajiv Ghandi. Ghandi in not interested in justice for the Tamils any more than Jayawardene is. His treatment of the Sikhs and other communal groupings in his own country are proof enough of thin. Two other considerations are motivating Ghandi’s intervention. The first is his desire to move India further away from the USSR and back to a more solidly pro US position. He hopes to eventually displace Pakistan as the White House’s favourite satellite in the region.


Reagan has insisted that Rajiv help Jayawardene bring the Tamil guerillas to heel. He obliged by Insisting on the ceasefire to the Tamil groups. He demanded their presence in Thimpu and Delhi. He deported two leaders (Balasiagham and Chusdrahasan) in August when they voiced doubts over the talks. He threatened them with the destruction of all their camps and aid in Tamil Nadu if they were not ‘flexible’.

The only restraining factor on Ghandi is the mass, open support for the beleaguered Tamils in Sri Lanka, among the 50 million Tamil Nadun in India. Thus he has to satisfy the solidarity movement more than the guerrillas. The September 24th Hartel (General Protest Strike) in Tamil Nadu was only one of the more spectacular signs of Ghandi’s problem.


For the moment the result of this parallelogram of forces is a political stalemate. Jayawardene’s actions during September and October, after the failure of the August talks, indicates what lies ahead. Then the military offensive was stepped up against the Tamil population resulting in the destruction of a major guerrilla camp and leading to a renewed flight of refugees from the North. Only an agreement on the composition of a Ceasefire Monitoring Committee on October 10th between the UNP, Ghandi and the six main groups stabilised the situation. This stability cannot last for long.