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Sunday, 13 March 2005    
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Living in a State of MoU

Light Refractions by Lucien Rajakarunanayake

Harrold bashing seems to be the name of the game today. It's in an interesting diversion from important issues such as the equitable distribution of tsunami relief and the setting of a suitable mechanism to do so. The chance to get on to Harrold baiting came as manna from heaven to many whose political slogans were becoming stale and were also seen to be unrealistic in the current context.

The game of Harrold bashing was made possible by his alleged statement, since denied by him, that: "Given the fact that there is an officially recognised LTTE-controlled area, a kind of unofficial state" exists and of the LTTE too being a stakeholder in the tsunami relief mechanism.

The LTTE has often referred to its own State of Thamil Eelam, and no one has taken serious objection to that, or put up posters asking Prabhakaran to be expelled from the country.

The question that arises from this entire controversy and anger at what Peter Harrold is reported to have said, later denied or not, is what in fact constitutes a state or a kind of "unofficial state".

To get some light shed on this whole issue I visited my friend Rajaraja Chakravarthy, who had made an in-depth study of states, including states within states, states in the making, states now defunct and those outside the pale of states.

Answering my question as to what does in fact constitute a state; he said that among the important requirements were a contiguous land area or territory, its own legal system, and law enforcement authority, as well as the right and ability to raise its own taxes.

Taken aback by this explanation, I asked him whether in that case the LTTE-controlled areas of Sri Lanka did not conform to the requirements of a state.

"No, no, there is a difference about the LTTE-controlled areas, they do not comprise a state whether official or unofficial" he said.

"What is the difference, I asked? They have territory under their own control, they do collect taxes, and they have their own law enforcement machinery, whether their law is universally accepted or not. So what's the big problem?"

"You must not forget that what the LTTE- controlled areas have is not a state in the true sense of the word whether, official or unofficial. It is only an MoU State," said Chakravarthy.

"C'mon, now why split hairs. What's the difference between an MoU State and any other state?"

"The difference is that an MoU state can survive as a state only as long as the MoU survives. In the event of the MoU being abrogated by either party, then its status as an MoU state immediately collapses."

"You mean the nature of the LTTE's "unofficial state" is subject entirely to the MoU?"

"Exactly, they have no other status, and anyone else who says anything to the contrary does not know his or her onions about what comprises a state," said Chakravarthy looking pleased with his conclusion.

But that raised some other doubts in my mind, which I needed to further clarify.

"As the Sri Lanka Government is also a signatory to this MoU, which as you say established the LTTE's MoU state, does it also mean that the Sri Lankan state is also only an MoU State since February 2002?"

"Interesting question, but that need not be so" he said. "I say this because it was the LTTE that wanted a separate state, and not Sri Lanka. In that sense, it is the LTTE-controlled area that can be defined as an MoU state."

"But doesn't it seem to have much more power than a mere MoU state as you describe it? For example, it does not allow Sri Lankan security forces to enter their MoU area, but their armed cadres apparently roam freely in the Sri Lankan controlled area."

"They kill at will outside their MoU area, but blame the Sri Lankan authorities if any of their cadres are killed or attacked within the Sri Lankan area. They even object to the ceasefire monitors entering their area. How can all this be reconciled, with what you refer to as a mere MoU state? They seem to have a much bigger idea of their statehood than that confined to an MOU?"

"That is all a question of the balance of forces. When dealing with an MoU state, it is important to make sure than the balance of forces is not upset in favour of either party. If this balance is upset there could be serious repercussions."

"What kind of repercussions do you envisage?"

"Well, it may be possible for the other side to tell the world that Sri Lanka is only an MoU state, without all the powers that go with an official sovereign state."

"Of course the question remains whether the rest of the world will accept that situation, going by the pledges they have made to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka," said Chakravarthy.

"But what if they do not stand by their pledges, as it is now being seen in the many pledges made for tsunami relief?"

"Of course, that will be a very serious matter. But I believe the major international players who have pledged support for Sri Lanka would not renege on their pledges."

Having listened to Rajaraja Chakravarthy and his explanation of what an MoU state amounts to, I began to wonder whether there was any need for the LTTE to declare a separate State of Eelam, or declare UDI or Unilateral Declaration of Independence, in the comfortable position they are now in. They have their own MoU demarcated territory; they extort money or in other words raise taxes at will.

They have their own land army, a sea army or navy and are now reporting to be advancing towards an air army too. They have plenty of unwilling cannon fodder in child recruits, while none of the leaders of the LTTE are known to have given their children to the LTTE's fighting cadres. As it is, it can come at will into Sri Lankan held territory and carry out any violence or killings and blame it on the inability of the Sri Lankan government to maintain law and order. What on earth do they want a separate state, official or unofficial for?

"In fact, added Chakravarthy, with their ability to function so openly abroad, even in countries in which the organisation is officially banned, they may even have begun to think they do not need any international recognition as a sovereign state."

"From what they can do now, it would appear that the powers available under an MoU state are quite sufficient for their needs. Of course, what I mean is the needs of the LTTE and its leaders and not the Tamil people."

I could not help fearing it would not take long for the LTTE to state that Sri Lanka is only an MoU state, and should continue to remain so, even though it claims to have control over the larger part of the land in this island, which far from being the Emerald Isle of the past is now reduced to being an MoU Isle.

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