An interim separate state

CHENNAI Nov. 1. Only those who believed that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had toned down its demands will be surprised by the proposals for an "interim self-governing authority" that the group gave to the Sri Lankan Government on Friday and announced publicly today.

The sweeping powers that the LTTE wants cover nearly all aspects of governance and seek to legitimise the de facto control that it already has in a hyphenless "NorthEast" Sri Lanka and its claim to be the only voice of the Tamil people. The LTTE makes this clear in the preamble, which states that "the LTTE exercises effective control and jurisdiction over the majority of the NorthEast area of the island of Sri Lanka," and is the "authentic representative" of the Tamils.

Not so explicitly, the document foreshadows a separate state.

The "Interim Self-Governing Authority" (ISGA) that the Tigers envisage will raise revenues, impose taxes and maintain law and order. The ISGA of the LTTE document will also have "power to alienate and determine the appropriate use of all land" in the North-East. These powers by themselves do not pose a threat to the territorial integrity of a state.

An outline for a separate state is visible in the powers that the LTTE wants in two other areas of governance: judiciary and elections. In the areas of the North-East where its writ runs, the LTTE has already established a judiciary and a legal system independent and different from the Sri Lankan system. The ISGA document says, "separate institutions for the administration of justice shall be established for the NorthEast and judicial powers shall be vested in such institutions". The document does not state whether these institutions will come under the Sri Lankan Supreme Court.

The LTTE also wants the power to appoint an "independent Election Commission" to conduct elections for the ISGA at the end of a proposed five-year appointed term for the Authority. The text is not clear if the word "independent" relates to autonomy from the LTTE or from the Sri Lankan Election Commission.

The document says the process for reaching a final settlement "remains ongoing" and elections will be held only if no such settlement has been reached and implemented by the end of the five-year period. At another place it says after four years, if no final agreement has been reached, there should be negotiations for "adding, clarifying and strengthening" the ISGA. Read together, the two evidently mean that at the end of five years, the LTTE wants Tamils to vote for an ISGA reinforced with more powers than contained in this document.

In the entire document, there is no mention of the word federal, or even confederacy or devolution. The document does not envisage any organic link with the Sri Lankan state. Rather, it demands "plenary powers" for the ISGA. The new shorter Oxford Dictionary defines plenary as "complete, entire, perfect, not deficient in any element or respect; absolute, unqualified." The proposals bear no resemblance to the Sri Lanka Government's own proposals for a North-East interim administration, which it presented to the LTTE last July. In a terse reaction to the LTTE plan, the Government today said it differed from its own in "fundamental respects".

The Government of Sri Lanka figures in the LTTE document only in three contexts: the vacation of Tamil lands by the Sri Lankan armed forces and compensation by the Sri Lankan state to those whose lands were taken over by the armed forces during the war; to state that the ISGA will control all funds allocated by the Sri Lankan Government to it and those flowing to the Sri Lankan Government from international aid agreements for the North-East; and in the composition of the ISGA, in which there is a provision for government representation.

The LTTE makes no bones that it wants the composition of the ISGA "to ensure an absolute majority" for itself. In order to accommodate its oft-repeated commitment to pluralism, the LTTE has proposed Sinhala and Muslim participation in the ISGA, but "subject" to its own majority.

The document says "representatives of the Muslim community have the right to participate in the formulation of their role in the ISGA" but does not offer any more clarity on this complicated and sensitive issue.

Of direct interest to India is the proposal that the LTTE-dominated ISGA will have control over the marine and offshore resources of the "adjacent (to the north-east) seas and the power to regulate access thereto". Implicit in this is a proposal for the recognition of the LTTE sea wing and for a maritime boundary dividing Sri Lankan territorial waters. That will leave the Sea Tigers in charge on one side of Sri Lanka's international boundary line with India.

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