[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 11 October 2006
Review: 136/06

Proposed Sri Lankan Peace Talks: The Karuna factor

I. Introduction:

Since June 2006, the breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Vinagamoorthy Muralitharan (Colonel Karuna) has reportedly abducted more than 100 children for recruitment. [1] As the conflict escalates, the forcible recruitment of children too escalates. According to UNICEF, as of 31st August 2006, there were 1545 outstanding cases of under age recruitment by the LTTE. Of these, 643 were under the age of 18, and 902 were recruited while under 18 but have now passed that age. There were also 101 outstanding cases of under age recruitment by the Karuna group. UNICEF estimates that its database only reflects a third of the actual number of children recruited. [2]

While the Sri Lankan government earlier rightly condemned the recruitment of children by the LTTE, it maintains silence over the recruitment of children by the Karuna group. Children are often abducted in unnumbered vehicles manned by the Karuna group from the vicinity of the security forces and passed through various military checkpoints. Sri Lankan security forces failed to notice anything illegal!

As the Norwegian mediators hold parleys with the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to resume dialogue in October 2006, Karuna factor looms large over. In March 2004, then LTTE's eastern commander, Colonel Karuna, split from the LTTE protesting against alleged discrimination of the eastern Tamils by the Tiger's northern leadership. The LTTE, on the other hand, alleged that Col. Karuna was forced to quit as he was involved in corruption and violated the Tiger's code of conduct. Sri Lanka's United National Party leaders claimed credit for successfully engineering the most serious split in the LTTE.

Following the split, the LTTE sent hundreds of cadres to engage in battle with Karuna and his supporters, resulting in massive casualties on both sides. Karuna later formed Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (Tamil Peoples Liberation Tigers), a political party of which he is the President. The armed clashes between the LTTE and the Karuna faction began in earnest and these clashes had direct implications on the cease-fire agreement signed on 22 February 2002.

II. Proposed peace talks of 28-29 October 2006

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE reportedly agreed to hold unconditional talks. However, the same has been denied by both the parties to show their tough posturing. There is little optimism over the proposed peace talks. On 5 October 2006, the government of Sri Lanka proposed to increase 40% in defence expenditure for 2007 to cover increased weapons procurement and air strike costs. [3]  The intensified military conflict that has displaced over 200,000 people shows no signs of respite. On 10 August 2006, Mr Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, put Sri Lanka next to Lebanon and Darfur in the list of the humanitarian disasters that required immediate attention of the international community.

If the proposed talks are held, it is unlikely that the first round will make any substantive progress. Like in the Geneva talks held on 22-23 February 2006 both the Sri Lankan government and LTTE might once again reiterate their commitment for the cease-fire agreement only to be spoiled by the Karuna faction, in addition to violations by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

If the proposed peace talks are held, the facilitators must emphasise on three key issues: (1) developing mechanisms to ensure respect for cease-fire agreement; (2) ensuring respect for human rights and international humanitarian laws; and (3) unrestricted access to the humanitarian agencies for distribution of humanitarian aid.

In this issue of ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, ACHR addresses the need for developing mechanisms to ensure respect for the cease-fire agreement.

III. Developing mechanisms to ensure respect for the cease-fire agreement

a. Karuna factor

Since the split of the Karuna faction, cease-fire agreement of February 2002 has been all but systematically violated by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. As the SLMM states, “During the first year the Ceasefire Agreement has been implemented in terms of military operations. The separation of forces has not been fully implemented. Freedom of movement has been implemented in general, but failure of the Parties to restore normalcy remains the reason for the majority of complaints from the population”.

The cease-fire agreement of February 2002 has not been revisited but the role of the Karuna group remains critical. The LTTE has accused the government of giving military support to the Karuna faction. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has corroborated the LTTE accusations.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in its “Geneva Report” presented at the Geneva talks on 22-23 February 2006 stated:

“Continued attacks on LTTE forward defence localities throughout the period showed that one or more armed groups were actively engaged in offensive operations against the LTTE. …..

The continued high number of assassinations of civilians, including LTTE supporters, in the East, as well as numerous reports of harassment of civilians strongly indicates that armed groups are operating in that area.

SLMM received a large number of complaints relating to assassinations, harassments, extortions, assaults or abductions where an armed group is the main suspect. Sighting of armed civilians claiming to represent Karuna is often reported to SLMM and on the 28th of March SLMM monitors encountered 10 - 15 armed men in civilian clothes operating in Valaichchenai, who told SLMM that they belong to the Karuna faction.

SLMM District Office in Batticaloa has also been contacted by individuals claiming to be Karuna members. The only clearly identified armed group is the Karuna faction and their political front TMVP who, contrary to the GOSL commitment, became even more visible in GOSL controlled areas in the East in March. SLMM has been in direct contact with Karuna supporters and TMVP members and their presence and activities are often confirmed by GOSL officials. SLMM was even advised by Ministry of Defence to avoid movements in certain parts of GOSL-controlled areas north of Batticaloa due to security reasons. There are a number of indications that the GOSL is actively supporting the Karuna group. Known Karuna supporters have been seen moving to and from SLA camps, and it is evident that the security forces and police in some areas are not taking action to prevent armed elements from operating.”

While killings by rival factions of the armed groups in conflict situations are nothing new, it is the direct support given to the Karuna group by the Sri Lankan government that puts the respect for the cease-fire agreement into question. 

In the last two and half years, there has not been any scope to revisit the cease-fire agreement to bring the Karuna faction within the ambit of the cease-fire agreement. Unless the Karuna faction is brought within the ambit of the cease-fire agreement, the peace process cannot withstand intimidation, extortions, abductions and clandestine killings in which civilians and suspected supporters of different groups are the main victims.

b. Strengthening the SLMM

Under the cease-fire agreement of February 2002, the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has been given very weak mandate. Each District has a Local Monitoring Committee (LMC) consisting of five members, two appointed by government of Sri Lanka , two by the LTTE and one SLMM monitor serving as the chairman. The committees were mandated to inquire into incidents and alleged violations of the cease-fire agreement, seeking to resolve any dispute at the lowest possible level. Any complaint is recorded and processed by the LMC.

The representatives of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE in the LMC were bound to oppose each other's accusations. The SLMM monitors being compelled to give decisive opinion, they often faced criticism. Former President Chandrika Kumartunga had perfected the art of accusing the SLMM of biases. Often the SLMM is denied unrestricted access for investigation.

The cease-fire agreement of February 2002 must be revisited if the proposed peace process is to make any progress. Bringing the Karuna faction within the ambit of the cease-fire agreement is a pre-requisite for holding substantive talks in the future. In addition, the Local Monitoring Committees must be strengthened and consist of independent and international representatives with the mandate to investigate the allegations without any restrictions on access to persons and places.

The degree of willingness to revisit the cease-fire agreement to bring the Karuna faction within the ambit of the cease-fire agreement and to strengthen the mandate of the SLMM will reflect the commitment of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE for finding a peaceful solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka.

[1] . “When Ceasefires Fail” by James Ross, 16 September 2006,

[2] .

[3] . Tamil Tigers agree to talks dates, BBC News, 5 October 2006,

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