Role of South Africa in the Resolution of the Conflict in Sri Lanka
FOR WRITTEN REPLY
QUESTION NUMBER: 1284
PUBLISHED IN INTERNAL QUESTION PAPER NO 27 OF 17 AUGUST 2007
Mr VC Gore (ID) to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs:
(1) Whether South Africa is playing any role in attempting to resolve the conflict in Sri-Lanka, if not, why not, if so, what are the relevant details? NW1767E
The South African Government is deeply concerned at the continued violence in Sri Lanka and are committed to ensuring that the peace talks facilitated by the Norwegian Special Peace Envoy succeeds in bringing the parties to the conflict back to dialogue.
In December 2001, following almost four decades of civil conflict which claimed over 60, 000 lives, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) found common ground and agreed to a unilateral cease-fire. Shortly thereafter in February 2002, in a significant moment of hope, the parties to the conflict signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), for a comprehensive Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). The CFA fundamentally initiated an indefinite and mutually agreed cessation of armed conflict and significantly ushered in the peace process under the guardianship of Norway.
Given the stabilization of the cease fire and the growing confidence between the two parties, the first ever talks in Sri Lankan political history began in Thailand in September 2002. Despite many political obstacles and the official withdrawal from talks of the LTTE in 2003, the peace process continued with two rounds of talks in Geneva in February and October 2006. However, the second round in October ended in a deadlock with a peaceful solution to the conflict uncertain.
We are concerned that the peace talks broke down and we join the international community in supporting the Norwegian facilitation team to mediate for peace, reconciliation and development.
Shortly after the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement was signed, the South African Government offered to host a round of peace talks, if requested by the relevant parties. Such a consultation would allow the Sri Lankan delegation an opportunity to access those who played a significant role in our own transition and negotiated settlement. Such an initiative would be similar to the efforts we have undertaken with the Palestinians and the Israelis in what has become known as the Spier Initiative.
If called on to do so, South Africa would indeed share our unique experiences, as we have with others on the continent and beyond, who continue to endure protracted conflict and violence.
The Department of Foreign Affairs continues to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka closely, and is in close contact with the Norwegian Special Peace Envoy to offer assistance. As South Africa is far from the South Asia arena, the role we can play meaningfully, is to advise and share our experiences on national reconciliation, conflict resolution and constitutional development, where and when called upon.
In September 2006, President Thabo Mbeki met his Sri Lankan counter-part President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the side-lines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in Havana, Cuba. At this meeting the suggestion was raised for a potential visit to South Africa of the Sri Lankan Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare, Mr Douglas Devananda. Minister Devananda is the Tamil leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).
Building on these discussions, Deputy Minister Pahad met Sri Lankan Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr A. Bhaila, at the IOR-ARC meeting in Tehran in March 2007. It was agreed that the working visit should go ahead and that the Minister should be accompanied by Mr V. Anandasangaree, the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
As part of South Africa’s active support of the Norwegian-led peace process, the two Tamil Sri Lankan leaders, visited South Africa in April 2007. Their purpose was to consult with the South African Government on ways to return Sri Lanka to a peaceful solution and to witness for themselves how South Africa managed to effectively deal with issues of racial and ethnic discrimination and inclusive constitutional development. This was to seek ways of transition from violence to negotiations.
In addition to meeting with Government, the two leaders met with an array of South African political and civil society leaders who played a significant role in South Africa’s liberation and subsequent transition to democracy. Importantly, the visit also included a consultation with the South African Tamil community, where the leaders could explain their role as Tamil leaders in parliament and how they viewed this as benefiting the peace process. Furthermore, they could address concerns raised domestically regarding the continued conflict and subsequent humanitarian crises affecting particularly the most vulnerable.
To further encourage and lend support to the creation of a climate conducive to finding lasting solutions to resolve Sri Lanka’s troubles, the South African Government calls upon the leadership of Sri Lanka’s diverse people to demonstrate the political will to further the aims and objectives of the peace process, to re-affirm their commitment to the Cease Fire Agreement, and to use all possible endeavours to return to the negotiating table.
In line with this focused attempt to assist in ending the conflict and in support of the Norwegian Special Peace Envoy, South Africa joins the international community in mourning the loss of life from the intensification of violence and re-iterates that it stands ready to share its unique experiences in reconciliation and nation-building with the Sri Lankan people, where and when called upon as part of our obligation to achieve meaningful South-South Cooperation.