Dissecting Lankan peace talks

Who foxed whom was how one of Sri Lanka’s best known analysts headlined his article based on the results of the first round of peace talks between Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government.

Revealing a lot of hitherto undisclosed details of the closed-door sessions in Geneva between the two sides, The Sunday Times columnist Iqbal Athas said the government won the day at the talks with the Tigers having to trawl back on some issues.

Not so, screamed the political columnist from The Sunday Leader, who said the government had been on the defensive and quoted chapter and verse of the events that took place inside the Chateau de Bossey, the venue of the meeting, through an interview with Anton Balasingham, leader of the LTTE delegation.

Thus, newspapers gave different versions and different interpretations of the sequence of events that took place behind the closed doors of the Chateau de Bossey. It was only one newspaper section that actually reflected the people’s feelings. The headline on the editorial of the Financial Section of The Sunday Times was “Talks? Thank God there’s a second round.” For many the fact that the two warring sides have got together after three years of bickering is itself a relief.

Getting them to talk, let alone sit at the same table amidst all the opposition from parties supporting the government like the JVP and the JHU, and getting their grudging support was itself a major achievement.

The Financial Times editorial said that one shouldn’t be disappointed with the conflicts that arose last week at the negotiating table. What appears to be certain is that the LTTE delegation was overawed by the competence and experience of the Sri Lankan government delegation and raised objections saying there were too many experts to which the LTTE hadn’t been informed of.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s plan to create a transparent and inclusive process where all parties took part in discussions and a possible strategy at the peace talks paid huge dividends. The Sri Lankan team with some top lawyers and UN specialists expertly replied LTTE queries, often turning tables on the opposing team with well, crafted answers.

Defence columnist Athas, who has a knack of getting inside information from any secretive process, said Police chief Chandra Fernando was easily the best in the Sri Lanka team. Athas said days ahead of his departure to Geneva, Fernando had burnt the midnight oil at the police headquarters arming himself with case records, documents, finger prints and even photographs.

According to reports that what transpired in Geneva has lifted Rajapakse’s stature. His handling of the political actors, selection of a team of experts to support the main delegation and the strenuous pre-talks’ meetings and discussions with all political parties to ensure a transparent process has gone down well with the people and the international community. The JVP and the JHU are silent on their objections to having peace talks overseas. Yet how could they go against the tide of support for the peace talks and the support it has received from the people?

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo