Capacity Building and Transformation


Discussion 1: Capacity Building and Transformation

Transformation is critical to sustaining any peacebuilding effort. Transformation involves moving societies and governments away from destructive conflict and toward constructive growth opportunities. Your course text describes four levels of transformation: structural, cultural, relational, and personal. Any one peacebuilding effort may not address all levels. Your course text also uses a similar term, conflict transformation. The author refers to conflict transformationas a way to identify the underlying causes of conflict, build relationships, and develop solutions. This Discussion addresses your textbook’s explanation of transformation (rather than conflict transformation).

Prior to participating in transformation efforts, societies and governments must first develop and maintain the capacity to proceed through the transformation process. In the language of peacebuilding, the process of developing and maintaining capacity is known as capacity building, and your course text alternates this term with building capacity. Your course text explains four approaches to capacity building: education, development, military conversion, and research and evaluation. Examples of transformation and capacity building exist worldwide. Your Learning Resources provide case studies from several countries.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review Chapter 9 in your course text, The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding. Pay particular attention to approaches in conflict transformation.
  • Review Chapter 10 in your course text, The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding. Focus on approaches to capacity building.
  • Review Chapter 11 in your course text, The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding. Note the explanation of levels of transformation.
  • Review the “Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Executive Summary.” Consider the report in terms of capacity building and levels of transformation.
  • Review the articles, “The Challenges of Conflict Management: A Case Study of Sri Lanka,” “The European Union, Borders and Conflict Transformation: The Case of Cyprus,” and “Conflict in Africa: A Case Study of the Shaba Crisis, 1977.” Select one conflict to review in detail and use for this Discussion. Focus on themes, issues, and peacebuilding approaches raised by the cases.
  • Consider one approach to capacity building represented in the case study that you selected.
  • Think about one level of transformation fostered by the effort or program described in the case study that you selected.

With these thoughts in mind:

Post a description of the case study that you selected. Explain one approach to capacity building that peacebuilders used. Explain one level of transformation fostered by the peacebuilding effort or program.

he Challenges of Conflict Management: A Case Study of Sri Lanka


Conflict processes are determined both by the larger geopolitical context and

the domestic political structure. Yet current studies tend to examine either

international or domestic factors, neglecting their interaction. This article

undertakes an analysis of the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka in order to examine

domestic-international intersections. In countries where civil war coexists

with stable, democratic institutions, conflict management becomes a complex

process of balancing competing demands within the government. Under such

conditions, noncoercive intervention, such as mediation, can play a more

constructive role than military action. The argument of this paper marks a

shift from the existing literature which tends to focus on conflicts in failed,

anarchic states where coercive intervention becomes necessary.

Over the last 15 years, the number of civil wars worldwide has declined. Systemic

changes such as globalization, the spread of democracy and greater international

involvement in domestic affairs are encouraging states to adopt a negotiations-based

approach to conflicts.1 When exploring the ebbs and flows of ethnic conflict, a twin

track approach, which looks at both the domestic and the international levels of

analysis, is critical. Yet, the existing literature tends to focus on either international

intervention or domestic institutions; that is, each factor is examined in isolation.

What conditions explain the management or resolution of civil wars?

Uncertainty and mistrust between the state and minority groups drives political

violence. Mitigating these conditions becomes essential for building peace. Extant

studies of third-party efforts to resolve civil war are based on the pessimistic notion

that conflict-affected states face such acute levels of institutional vacuum that they

require forceful intervention. The literature fails to address cases where the dynamic

is a more complex interplay of both interstate and intrastate politics. In countries

where stable institutions coexist with political violence, third parties must take this

intersection into account. Under such conditions, non-coercive intervention, such as

mediation, can play an instrumental role in overcoming trust barriers. This article

examines the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka in order to explain the impact of domestic

and international interactions upon the peace process, within the context of a

relatively stable democratic polity.

The following section reviews the current body of literature in the field. Next, I

discuss the reasons that make the Sri Lankan case particularly relevant to such a

study. A brief history of the conflict is provided. The paper then discusses different

Civil Wars, Vol.8, No.1 (March 2006), pp.46–65 ISSN 1369-8249 print/ISSN 1743-968X online

DOI: 10.1080/13698240600886057 q 2006 Taylor & Francis



phases of international intervention and the domestic context in which intervention

occurred. The domestic and international dimensions of the conflict management

process are explored. The paper concludes with a discussion of its implications. The

study is state-centered and focuses on the Sri Lankan government’s decisions during

the conflict. While the tactics of the rebelling group are discussed, a full-length

exploration of both sides to the conflict is beyond this study’s scope.


The Need for International Intervention

Within the robust body of literature on civil wars, there is relatively little scholarly

research on the de-escalation, management and resolution of conflict. Despite the

growing role of international intervention, theoretical development in understanding

third-party action in ethnic conflict is still lacking. The literature exhibits a

considerable amount of debate, driven in part by the circuitous nature of conflict

processes. Systematic studies of specific cases can help us probe causal processes

and understand the impact of various types of intervention.2

In security related studies, the international–domestic boundary used to be

fairly rigid.3 Scholars worked under the assumption that the international system is

marked by anarchy. As a result, they focused on security dilemma and commitment

problems. Students of domestic politics have, in contrast, worked under the

assumption that states have a working hierarchy. Consequently, they studied laws

and institutions. Scholarship in recent decades has challenged these boundaries

between international and comparative politics.4 As global interdependence

increases, conflict resolution is often an outcome of factors at both the domestic

and the international levels.

International intervention refers to economic, military or diplomatic activity by a

third-party actor, which aims to influence the course of an ongoing civil conflict.

International engagements have facilitated the settlement or containment of an

increasing number of ethnonational wars. Third parties can modify the costs and

benefits of the conflict by providing information, helping to design creative and

feasible solutions, offering incentives and/or threatening sanctions. In civil wars,

conditions of mistrust make the probability of compromise quite low. In many cases,

the conflict comes to be viewed as a zero-sum game by the actors. This often makes

mediation, or other forms of external action, a necessary ingredient in negotiations. 5

Combining Levels of Analysis

Why is it important that we place intervention within the context of the domestic

political situation? Current studies of third-party actions often assume that war-

affected states mirror the state of anarchy found in the international system. In part,

this has been a result of discourse that suggests a binary opposition of failed and

successful states.6 This dichotomy suggests that conflict-affected states are failed

countries with no central authority, legitimacy or ability to provide public goods.




Domestic anarchy calls for a third party to stabilize and monitor the situation

through heavy intervention.7

In fact, state capacity in countries facing ethnopolitical violence is not uniformly

weak. Not all conflict-affected countries are collapsing or failed states.8 For

example, India is an enduring democracy with a federal structure. Yet, institutional

weaknesses have encouraged numerous ethnic rebellions. Other examples include

Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland), Papua New Guinea

and the Philippines. Many of these states occupy a middle ground between the

supposed dichotomy of failed and successful states. Wars in such situations may be

resolved without the heavy-handed stability guarantees that are touted in existing

scholarly and policy studies.

Because of the literature’s focus on high-decibel cases of state failure like

Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we

ignore cases of peace negotiations and/or settlements which have occurred with a

partnership of domestic and international actors, such as in Indonesia and Papua

New Guinea.9 As a consequence of this limitation, most studies on the role and

efficacy of international intervention ignore local capacity. Conversely, studies that

examine the relation of domestic institutions to ethnic conflict do not examine the

possible intersecting effects of international intervention.10 Even though scholars

have encouraged an integration of international relations and comparative politics in

understanding peace processes,11 few studies of conflict management have actually

addressed this gap.


Understanding the complementary role of international and domestic factors

becomes particularly important when we examine conflict processes in democratic

countries. Because democracies provide more information about decision-making

processes and outcomes, the security dilemma and resulting conflict spirals are

mitigated.12 However, since democracies allow the open expression of dissent, they

might also send unclear signals to rebelling groups about the extent of consensus and

political will in the government.13 These dynamics have a significant impact on civil

war, a point that has not been investigated in the current literature. The research

presented here will point to the complex relations between democracy and conflict


Theoretically, democratic regimes are more transparent, receptive to dissent and

amenable to power sharing. These factors should make them more willing and

able to compromise with rebelling groups. Where democratic institutions have been

manipulated and weakened, the credibility of political structures declines. In such

situations, the challenge of balancing competing claims to state power and resources

becomes very complex. Electoral competition can make it difficult for the

government to seek a compromise solution with rebelling groups, particularly if the

latter are perceived to threaten national integrity and unity. Being receptive to

international intervention, especially if it involves foreign military presence, can




make the government vulnerable to accusations of weakness and trigger a nationalist

backlash. International intervention, even in softer forms such as mediation, can

suggest the government is unable to address its internal problems.14 In the war of

images that often characterize internal conflict, such a move can strengthen the

rebels. In other words, stable and democratic countries are also vulnerable to civil

conflicts. In such situations, the efficacy of international intervention might be

limited by the democratic politics of the affected state. Low- key intervention,

which facilitates, rather than forces, the peace process is a more useful conflict-

management tool in such cases.

A number of studies in international relations have shown us that states are not

unitary actors. Internal debates and rivalries affect most foreign policy decisions.

This realization has not been adequately extended to examinations of international

influences on civil wars. The state is often assumed to be a unitary actor with a single

set of rational preferences.15 In practice, governments wrestle with clashing demands

and interests while attempting to resolve domestic rebellions. Democratic regimes

do tend to have a higher probability of engaging in direct dialogue with rebelling

groups.16 At the same time, they have decisional constraints that limit the ability

to reach power-sharing agreements with minority groups. Disagreements and

competition within the state can play a pivotal role in the conflict process. Such

processes are often most visible and influential in democratic regimes, where

electoral competition and alliance politics determine policy decisions.17 Recognition

of intra-government differences is critical for a nuanced understanding of the effects

and limitations of international intervention.

Few studies consider the receptiveness of a country towards intervention in terms

of local perceptions of sovereignty. In the Sri Lankan case, India’s offer of security

guarantees was greeted with intense popular opposition because it was seen as a

threat to the country’s integrity. Such perceptions are likely higher in countries with

a greater degree of local state capacity and can exercise a direct influence on the

efficacy of third-party intervention. There is a need to develop a better understanding

of conflict situations in stable and democratic countries, and to explore the limitations

and opportunities of third-party intervention in such situations.

Enforcement Intervention: Is it Necessary?

Scholars have argued that enforcement-based intervention, such as military action or

providing security guarantees, is necessary to overcome the chronic credible

commitment problems that plague civil war. The emphasis on enforcement leads us

to neglect the distributional and political conditions that foster dialogue. Strong third-

party intervention can create an ‘unnatural peace’ which merely shifts the problem of

credible commitment to external parties.18 Research on interstate crises has also

indicated the negative unintended consequences of heavy-handed intervention.19

Peace is viable only so long as the external actors remain committed tomonitoring

and enforcement activities. Such external commitment is in itself rare. Realist theory

suggests that international actors will be reluctant to commit substantial and sustained

resources to a distant conflict unless they have a direct interest in it. If the security




guarantors are interested parties, it would follow that they would be perceived as

biased by at least one of the conflict actors. It is unclear how such a perception could

override themistrust, which is driving the conflict. InCambodia, Somalia andAngola,

external security guarantees have collapsed, leading to further domestic warfare. In

other cases, such as Guatemala and El Salvador, noncoercive, normative intervention

has greatly facilitated the peace process. 20

An Integrative Ttheory

In sum, the existing literature does not pay adequate attention to the intersections

between domestic and international levels of analysis in conflictmanagement. Taking a

more nuanced look at this interplay challenges the emphasis on forceful international

intervention and security guarantees present in some studies. 21 The United Kingdom

(Northern Ireland), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India and

Philippines, have all experienced rebellions while having democratic institutions and a

central focus of control. Third-party actions in such situations face particular challenges

due to the weaknesses of internal political structures. Where the state is not facing a

collapse of authority, facilitative intervention, such as mediation, can be a more cost-

effective conflict management tool than high-cost, high-impact actions. Identifying

alternatives to coercive intervention becomes particularly important given the relative

rarity of external security guarantees.


This paper will examine the interactive processes of domestic and international

influences on the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka. The island nation of Sri Lanka has a

population of about 19 million people. A majority of the country is Sinhala (about 74

per cent), while an estimated 12–13 per cent are Sri Lankan Tamils.22 Since the

1980s, Sri Lanka has faced a protracted violent conflict, led by the militant

Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE has demanded a separate and

independent state for the Tamil people, who are concentrated in the north-eastern

part of the country. The Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan government (GoSL) has

refused to acquiesce to this. The war has affected the vast social and economic

potential of this country, once hailed as the next Singapore of Asia. It continues to be

one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. 23

Political Institutions

Sri Lanka has several factors, which make it a particularly interesting study, distinct

from the failed states that often constitute explorations of intervention in civil wars.

First, the country has reasonably strong political institutions, with stable

bureaucratic and juridical structures. Except for the LTTE-controlled areas of the

northeast, the government enjoys territorial sovereignty and sufficient military

capability. Despite the long-standing conflict in the Jaffna Peninsula, the rest of the

country has experienced ‘regular’ life and a strong civil society.24




Second, Sri Lanka is a long-standing democracy with an active and competitive

multiparty system. Theoretically, democratic structures provide transparent power-

sharing mechanisms which can help overcome commitment problems. Some

scholars have, however, questioned the ability of democratic governments in

developing countries to prevent or manage conflicts.25 A close examination of the

Sri Lankan case will highlight some of the challenges of conflict management in a

poorly functioning democracy.

History of Intervention

Sri Lanka has had a long history of international intervention. Broadly speaking,

there have been two major phases of external action. The first phase involved a high

level of diplomatic and military intervention by the country’s powerful neighbor,

India. This intervention culminated in India’s controversial, and ultimately failed,

military incursion and subsequent withdrawal in 1990. The next major phase of

intervention began in 1997 and has involved mediation by Norway. 26

The case illustrates many of the challenges and opportunities presented by third

party-action. The disastrous Indian intervention highlights the potential dangers of

military action, particularly in a country with a strong sense of sovereignty and

nationalism. On the other hand, facilitative intervention has played an important role

in enabling the conflicting parties to engage in dialogue with each other. At the same

time, the Sri Lankan state’s internal divisions have prevented it from taking decisive

steps towards reaching a viable settlement. In sum, examining the Sri Lankan case

will enable us to understand the role of different forms of intervention: mediation,

diplomatic pressure and military intervention.


Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) was a British colony from 1795 till 1948. As in

many of its other colonies, the British encouraged the development of a small group

of cosmopolitan, English-speaking administrative officials. As a result of the

historical concentration of educational facilities in the Jaffna Peninsula, Tamils, who

were in a majority in this area, came to dominate this English-speaking group. Much

of the Sinhala population was excluded from this elite circle.27 Sri Lanka gained

independence from Britain through a peaceful transfer of power in 1948. From its

inception, it was a parliamentary democracy. While the first few post-independence

years were marked by a great deal of optimism, ethnic strife was soon to become a

scarring and permanent feature of Sri Lankan politics.

In post-independence Sri Lanka, linguistic differences became a highly divisive

issue. Acquiescing to the demands of nationalists, the government instituted

Sinhalese as the sole official language. Concerned with their marginalization, Tamil

politicians began to seek autonomy for their community. Assurances were given to

the Tamils that their language would be given due recognition. However, as rival

political leaders tried to attract the Sinhala vote by attacking attempts at power

sharing, the assurances did not yield results.




In an effort to garner Sinhala votes, successive governments enacted a series of

measures aimed at asserting the preeminent position for the majority group. A new

constitution in 1972 emphasized the unitary structure of the state. It also made

Buddhism the foremost religion and Sinhalese the dominant language. In 1973 the

government introduced a system of positive discrimination in favor of Sinhala

candidates in university admissions. This resulted in a fall in educational and

employment opportunities for Tamils. As the Sri Lankan economy faltered and

unemployment increased, the government resorted to greater numbers of populist

moves to fuel Sinhala nationalism. Successive governments in Sri Lanka would

support greater rights for Tamils but back down in the face of Sinhala opposition.

Ethnic outbidding had become a standard feature of Sinhala politics. As a result,

Tamil groups looked upon government proposals with cynicism and demands for a

separate state became more entrenched. Sri Lankan politics became marked by

competing and clashing claims of Tamil and Sinhala nationalism.28

Tamil militancy came to the fore during this time. The Tamil New Tigers was

formed in 1972; this group was to become the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

(LTTE) in 1976. The year 1983 marked a significant escalation in ethnic polarization

and violence. On 23 July 1983 Tamil militants killed 13 soldiers in Jaffna. This was

followed by indiscriminate rioting in Colombo, where Tamil civilians were brutally

attacked and killed. Politicians and government officials openly participated in

the violence and President J. R. Jayawardene showed little, if any, regret for the

situation. The riots directly led to the creation of a large Tamil refugee population,

both within and outside the country. There was an exodus of Tamils to Europe, North

America and neighboring India.

The Tamil diaspora that had been displaced after the 1983 riots helped create

a global militant movement. The LTTE evolved into one of the world’s most

disciplined, well-funded and well-organized militant organizations, with strong

bases in India and several Western countries. The group has continued to wage a

brutal campaign against Sri Lankan forces. 29


Because of the island’s geographical location and strong kinship links between the

Tamil populations in the two countries, India has had a long-standing interest in

political developments in Sri Lanka. India’s position has, however, been riddled

with internal contradictions. As demands for autonomy grew among Sri Lankan

Tamils, the Indian government became concerned with the possible impact on its

restive southern state, Tamil Nadu. At the same time, Indian politicians used the

conflict in their own brand of ethnic outbidding. Political parties in Tamil Nadu

vied with one another to support Tamil demands in Sri Lanka. The central

government supported these moves in order to garner votes. Additionally, the

Indian government sought to enhance its influence over the country. As a result, the

Indian government adopted a muddled, twin-track policy. While Sri Lankan Tamil




militant groups were trained by India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis

Wing, New Delhi became a mediator in the conflict.30

In 1985 Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi convinced Sri Lankan President

Jayewardene to hold talks with separatist Tamil groups under Indian mediation.31 Sri

Lankan authorities met representatives of five major Tamil guerrilla groups in

Thimpu, Bhutan for two rounds of talks in 1985. Initially, the talks seemed to progress

well with discussions on devolution of power. Yet, the actors were unable to reach a

final decision, as each side continued to blame the other for ceasefire violations.

During the talks, President Jayewardene’s ability to make concessions was

hampered by domestic alliances and conditions. Sinhala nationalists launched a

virulent campaign against the peace talks and the Buddhist clergy allied itself with

the rival party. Jayewardene resorted to populist rhetoric to placate Sinhala

nationalists and took an increasingly hardline stance toward Tamil demands. The

Tamils withdrew from the talks in August, protesting an outburst of violence in a

northern town.32 As the talks headed towards collapse, new fighting erupted between

the two sides.33 The Indian government continued to try and facilitate the peace

process, but its efforts were unsuccessful. By 1986 talks had broken down

completely and the violence escalated.

In 1987 secret talks between the Indian and Sri Lankan government led to a

peace accord. According to its terms, Tamil militant groups would not be permitted

to operate on Indian soil. In addition, Indian troops would be sent to the northeastern

Sri Lanka to help disarm Tamil militants and protect civilians. The secrecy

surrounding the talks fueled the belief that the Accord was imposed by the Indian

government upon President Jayewardene and on the LTTE.

The Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) that was sent to Sri Lanka was, initially, a

security guarantor to maintain peace in the Jaffna Peninsula. Yet, the role of the

Indians was fraught with problems from the onset. Both Tamil and Sinhala

nationalists opposed the accord. Tamil militants were enraged that discussions

leading to the pact excluded their involvement and were suspicious of the fact that

the accord gave primacy to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Sinhala nationalists were virulently opposed to Indian involvement, viewing it as a

violation of Sri Lankan sovereignty. Even ministers within the Sri Lankan

government expressed their unhappiness with the agreement. The accord led to riots

in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and a resurgence of the militantly nationalist

Janata Vimuki Peramuna (‘People’s Liberation Front’) or JVP. This ensued in

extreme and protracted violence in the southern part of the country, where the JVP

had its traditional base.34

By October 1987 relations between the IPKF and the Tamils had reached its

nadir, as allegations of brutal actions against Tamil militants and civilians reached

their peak. The IPKF’s role changed from a security guarantor to an enemy force,

hated by both sides to the conflict. In 1990 the Indian troops finally left Jaffna under

persistent demands from the Sri Lankan government.35 After the departure of the

IPKF, the LTTE declared the onset of its Eelam War II and a new phase of military

hostilities started.





The IPKF operation was a disastrous mission. It destroyed India’s reputation and

entrenched hostilities between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. The

Indian intervention failed to achieve its goal of ending the war in Sri Lanka and, in

fact, had a counterproductive impact on the situation. The Tamils’ experience of

the harshness of the IPKF operation cemented their commitment to fight for an

independent state. 36

The Indian intervention shows the limitations of third-party action, even when the

actor in question is a powerful one. The government of Sri Lanka was suspicious that

India favored the Tamil militants, while the latter viewed India with hostility after the

IPKF debacle. The military intervention was also seen as an unwelcome challenge to

Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. In sum, both sides mistrusted Indian involvement.


In the 1990s it became more apparent that the two sides were at a military stalemate.

As a result, the actors became more receptive to the idea of a negotiated settlement.

In 1994 the People’s Alliance (PA), under the leadership of Chandrika

Kumaratunga, came to power in the parliamentary elections. One of the PA’s

principal election planks had been a promise to initiate talks with the LTTE. The

party’s victory showed popular support for this. After coming to power,

Kumaratunga introduced confidence-building measures to underline her govern-

ment’s interest in working towards a peace settlement. 37

Although some talks were held between the two sides, prospects for a settlement

were not positive. First, Kumaratunga enjoyed only a slim majority in the

parliament, limiting her ability to implement reforms. Second, it was more than

likely that even her own party members would resist surrendering political power to

the Tamils. Finally, while the talks were continuing, the two sides continued to

engage in military hostilities. In response to a major LTTE attack on a presidential

candidate in October 1994, the government suspended peace talks with the group.38

In 1997 the Sri Lankan government made a renewed push for peace by trying to

obtain a broader consensus on devolution while continuing its military actions against

the LTTE. However, as in earlier instances, neither the opposition nor the ruling party

showed a commitment to cooperate with each other on the peace process. The

opposition of the Buddhist clergy played an important role in preventing any concrete

proposals from being made. The LTTE, too, continued to arm itself, underlining its

own reluctance to follow a negotiations-based approach. The Sri Lankan

government’s postponement of provincial elections and renewed military operations

in the north underscored the lack of credibility in its peace overtures. 39

In sum, the ongoing policy of ethnic outbidding ensured that the government was

unable and unwilling to offer tangible autonomy to the Tamils. For its part, the

LTTE was not committed to the peace process and the group declared EelamWar III

in 1995.





From 1998 the two sides once again appeared more willing to engage in dialogue.

This was facilitated by a growing interest from Norway and a steady realization that

the conflict had reached political and military stalemate.40 The Norwegians held

meetings with senior members of the Sri Lankan government, opposition parties and

the LTTE in order to facilitate dialogue. India supported the Scandinavian

initiative.41 International interest pushed both sides in the conflict towards

attempting to find a political solution.

Efforts to generate cooperation between the government and the opposition

ultimately fell victim to the ethnic outbidding that has plagued Sri Lanka for

decades. Hardline Buddhist monks and other Sinhala nationalists opposed

the proposal on the grounds that it relinquished too much to the Tamils. The

Sinhala nationalists were also suspicious of Norway’s overtures to the LTTE and

alleged that the intervener was biased in favor of Tamil separatists. Keen to avoid

losing the nationalist vote, the President and the opposition leader publicly

declared that they would take decisive steps only after consultation with Buddhist


In 2001 military hostilities increased with a renewed battle for Jaffna and a major

LTTE suicide attack on the international airport in Colombo.42 At the same time, the

major Sinhala political parties traded accusations on the handling of the conflict. The

growing strength of Sri Lankan nationalist parties, such as the JVP, contributed to

the unwillingness of the leading parties to take bold decisions on the conflict.43 Once

again, the efforts of the Norwegian mediation team were stymied by ethnic

outbidding between the major political players in the country and the intransigence

of the LTTE.


Despite these setbacks, international opinion in India, Canada and the US continued

to support a peace process. Donor countries and international organizations began to

exert pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to work towards a negotiated

settlement. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 marked a change in the

LTTE’s position. International sentiment and policy towards militant organizations

hardened. Access to funds was tightened in several Western countries in which

LTTE had a base. The group’s sympathizers became more open in their questioning

of the viability, effectiveness and legitimacy of its militant activities. As a result, the

group showed an increasing preference for dialogue with the GoSL, even though it

did not dilute its military strength.44

In December 2001 the UNP won the parliamentary elections and Ranil

Wickeremasinghe, who had promised to hold talks with the LTTE, became prime

minister. Highlighting the importance of international intervention,Wickremasinghe

said that he would rely on world opinion to withstand opposition from hardline

Sinhala parties.45




A significant breakthrough was achieved by the Norwegians in March 2002. The

two sides signed a ceasefire pact and agreed to hold direct talks. The agreement

provided for the creation of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), led by

Norway. Direct talks were held in Thailand and in Norway in 2002. GoSL and LTTE

representatives discussed rehabilitation work and security issues such as the

withdrawal of the military from certain Tamil-dominated areas. In December, the

two sides made a major tactical shift by agreeing to explore a federal structure for Sri

Lanka. Previously, the LTTE had been adamant in its secessionist stance. The

agreement in Oslo indicated that the group was finally willing to seek a solution

within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.46 For its part, the GoSL had earlier been

very reluctant to explore federalism. Sinhala nationalists had viewed the concept

with a great deal of suspicion, concerned that it would directly lead to a breakup of

the country.

The Oslo summit also underlined the LTTE’s continuing quest for international

legitimacy. The group welcomed the presence of foreign officials at the meeting and

sought to send representatives to different democratic countries to study various

models which could be applied to a reconstituted Sri Lanka.47

While these talks generated optimism and were encouraged by both India and the

United States, concerns remained about the impact of domestic politics on the

negotiations. In particular, the bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Wickrema-

singhe and President Kumaratunga was expected to be a major impediment.48 The

President alleged that the ceasefire terms violated the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by

giving too much power to the Norwegians. She also opposed lifting the ban on the

LTTE, a demand to which the Prime Minister had already agreed. The JVP was very

hostile to the agreement and accused the government of betraying the country and

succumbing to Norwegian interests.49

In April 2003 the LTTE unilaterally suspended negotiations. The Norwegians

continued their attempts by talking to both the Sri Lankan government and the

Tigers. Despite its pullout from direct talks, the LTTE showed a continued, albeit

questionable, interest in the peace process. The ceasefire stayed in place, despite

some minor violations and allegations that the LTTE was recruiting children as

soldiers. On 31 October 2003 the LTTE presented its much awaited counterproposal

outlining an Interim Self-Governing Authority for northeastern Sri Lanka. This

was a significant step, as in the past, the LTTE had awaited the government’s offers

rather than offer some of its own.

Soon after the counterproposals were presented, however, the government

of Sri Lanka once again found itself in turmoil. Exercising her constitutional

powers, President Kumaratunga took over several key portfolios and prorogued

parliament. Kumaratunga’s move highlighted the bitter conflict between her and

Wickremasinghe and the danger that this rivalry posed to the peace process. Because

of the lack of clarity over the authority structure in the GoSL, the Norwegian

government formally put its role in the peace process on hold.

In the 2004 parliamentary elections the PA came back into power with the

support of the nationalist JVP. This cast doubt on the government’s ability to push




forward a settlement with the LTTE. The JVP has consistently and vociferously

opposed moves to recognize the LTTE and share power with Tamils. The party has

also protested government cooperation with the militant group in the tsunami-

affected areas of northeastern Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, Kumaratunga’s government

showed an interest in continuing the peace process. After assuming power, the

President said that she welcomed Norwegian intervention and supported working

with the LTTE on tsunami-related relief work.

Unfortunately, the hope that the conflict in Sri Lanka would be eased through

cooperation in tsunami-related reconstruction efforts proved to be short-lived. Amid

continuing ceasefire violations, increasing incidences of LTTE violence and

frequent changes of power in the government, the peace process appears to be in

serious jeopardy. In 2006 the Norwegians were able to arrange the first face-to-face

dialogue between the two sides, preventing a possible return to war. The dialogue

failed, however, to stem the rising numbers of killings. In the absence of a strong

political direction from the Sri Lankan government and the recalcitrance of the

LTTE, it is unclear where the peace process will ultimately lead.


There are at least three compelling reasons for the conflict parties to seek a

negotiated settlement.

First, there is tangible war weariness among the population of the country.

Second, the conflict has reached a military stalemate, with neither side in a

position to score a compelling victory. It is possible that the LTTE views its present

situation as preferable to an ultimate settlement because it has de facto control over

parts of the country. Nonetheless, the likelihood of the group being granted a

separate state is small. Moreover, post-9/11 sanctions are believed to have hurt the

finances and legitimacy of the organization.

Third, international pressure to resolve the conflict by peaceful means is strong.

This includes both political and financial incentives. The conflict actors stand to gain

from the substantial amounts of international financial assistance promised for post-

conflict rehabilitation, reconstruction and development.50

Furthermore, leading Sinhala politicians acknowledge that the Tamil population

has been wronged in the past and devolution is necessary. Yet, the path of peace has

been filled with vacillation, both from the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

Given the strong incentives to continue the peace process, why has the Sri

Lankan government been so unwilling to commit to it? One obvious reason is the

mistrust of the LTTE. Many domestic and international officials are skeptical of the

group’s interest in co-existing in a united Sri Lanka. LTTE’s violent methods do not

reflect a credible commitment to the democratic governing process. The group has

been criticized for continuing to violate the ceasefire, procure arms and forcibly

recruit children as soldiers. The LTTE also mistrusts the government’s intentions, as

do many Tamil civilians. Consequently, each side’s negative perceptions get

reinforced, creating a formidable obstacle to the peace process.51




The second reason is the internal nature of Sri Lankan politics. Just as denying

Tamils equal rights and status had been the hallmark of Sri Lankan politics in earlier

decades; scuttling the peace process has become an integral part of recent party

politics. The party in power supports the peace process; in response, the opposition

casts doubt on the ruling party’s commitment to a united Sri Lanka. As a result, the

credibility of the government’s assurances to the Tamils is very low. Ironically, the

two principal parties, the UNP and the PA, have very few substantive differences on

the peace process. They agree that the conflict has reached a military stalemate and

that a decisive victory is unlikely. They also concur that a negotiated settlement is

necessary for Sri Lanka’s economic and social progress.52 Yet each party questions

and challenges the other’s peace moves and refuses to give the support necessary for

a settlement to be reached. The LTTE’s quest for absolute power among the Tamils

is matched by the intense competition between the PA and the UNP. These two

forces have worked together to entrench the conflict and prevent it from ending.53

The Sri Lankan case illustrates some of the ways in which democratic politics can

hinder conflict management.



Theoretically, a democratic regime is well placed to mitigate commitment problems

by allowing for a structure of competition, dialogue and power-sharing. We would

expect that democracies have a greater probability of having substantive and

successful negotiations with a rebel group. In Sri Lanka, however, we see an

opposite process at work. Sri Lanka’s electoral politics has been marked by ethnic

outbidding from the outset. In addition, the structure of electoral politics in Sri

Lanka and the division of power between the President and Prime Minister makes it

difficult for any single party to gain decisive control over governance. As a result,

the party in power is often dependent on alliances with smaller parties, who, in turn,

have their own agendas. As a result, no government is strong enough to push through

a peace agreement; and no opposition is willing to support the government in its

attempts to secure such an agreement. Uncertainty has become a constant and

defining feature of politics in Sri Lanka, affecting every stage of the peace process.

There have been times that the government and the opposition have attempted to

cooperate on peace plans; however, these have been always been thwarted by

the exigencies of party politics. The unwillingness to cooperate has affected the

peace process by making the government’s offers less credible. It may be true that

democracies are more transparent in their negotiations.54 This does not, however,

lead to stability, particularly where democratic institutions are governed by the

politics of expediency and shifting alliances. While democratic transparency can

help the process of negotiations, democratic politics can, paradoxically, hinder it.

The international community does not support LTTEmoves to establish a separate

state. Such recognition would violate international norms against secessionist

movements. It might also send a signal that terrorism can yield benefits.55 This has




worked to the advantage of the Sri Lankan government. In addition, there are

significant financial incentives for both sides to arrive at a peace settlement. Thus,

international pressure has been active in encouraging negotiations.

During the phase of Indian military intervention, relations between the LTTE and

the GoSL were very weak. When intervention took a more diplomatic, facilitative

nature, we witnessed periods of substantive talks between the two sides. This was

the case during the Thimpu talks in the mid-1980s and the Norwegian push towards

peace from the late 1990s. International intervention has, however, had a weaker

influence on the dynamics of intra-Sinhala politics. While the party in power tends to

adopt a more conciliatory position, the one in opposition follows a more belligerent

and critical path. This, in turn, impacts the progress of talks between the government

and the Tamil separatists. Ultimately, this has created a situation where facilitative

intervention does create room for talks but no agreement is reached.

In contrast to Norway’s intervention, India’s military action had a highly

detrimental impact on Sri Lankan politics. It exacerbated the conflict and created a

long-term antipathy toward foreign intervention. This, in turn, has led to mistrust of

Norwegian intervention. The IPKF debacle shows the far-reaching pitfalls of a

poorly planned, coercive intervention. In countries with functioning political

institutions, noncoercive, facilitative intervention might be more useful in dealing

with civil conflicts. Noncoercive intervention, such as mediation, represents a low-

cost alternative between inaction and risky large-scale military intervention.56 It also

has a higher likelihood of getting local support as it does not threaten the country’s


Figure 1 illustrates the international and domestic dimensions of the conflict.

International intervention has helped facilitate dialogue between the conflict

actors. Given the extent of mistrust between the two sides, third-party action is, in

fact, essential to facilitating negotiations. Ethnic outbidding and reputation concerns

have, however, created a situation where the government and opposition parties



Source: The author.




are unwilling to cooperate to find a credible, peaceful solution. The question of

international intervention feeds into this dynamic to the extent that the government

needs and seeks external help, but is reluctant to seem dependent upon it. These

dynamics, in turn, affect the success of talks between the government and the


From a policy perspective, the situation raises some difficult questions. It is not

clear if the international community can, or should, take any action to alter the

domestic political calculations. Nonetheless, this dimension is a critical intervening

factor, one that the international community must be cognizant of and sensitive to.

From a theoretical perspective, it is important to consider the impact of electoral

politics on the efficacy of international intervention efforts.

Political institutions can and do play an important role in maintaining ethnic

peace. In order to play a constructive role, however, they should be viewed as an

impartial mediator by citizens. When institutions are not consistent and impartial,

the citizenry will lose confidence in them. In Sri Lanka, political institutions have

been weakened and manipulated to the extent that ethnic outbidding has become a

standard feature of the island’s politics, creating an atmosphere of extreme

mistrust.57 In such a situation, impartial external intervention becomes essential to

fulfill the mediatory role abdicated by domestic institutions.

In Sri Lanka, previous peace efforts have been obstructed by two factors, the

LTTE’s extremism and domestic politics. Under international pressure, both

economic and political, the positions of the LTTE and the GoSL had softened,

although there are renewed fears about a return to war. What remains missing is a

domestic consensus on a viable settlement. While third-party action has been

successful in convincing the LTTE and the government of the need to reach a

negotiated settlement, it has not been able to restrain the ethnic outbidding

characterizing Sri Lankan politics. Even in strong states, negotiations to end

violent conflict require a significant amount of diplomacy and political will.

Leaders need to consider popular support and their political survival while

arriving at a compromise solution.58 In other words, domestic consensus on the

peace process is essential, even in the face of strong international support for


Electoral considerations in competitive, multiparty systems can make the

construction of such an agreement very difficult and complex. The international

community must, therefore, be sensitive to actions that might harm such a consensus

(e.g., mention of sending peacekeeping forces) and those that could help build an

agreement (e.g., offering economic support to a peace agreement, which would

benefit the country as a whole).


The Sri Lankan case provides some interesting and previously understudied insights

into the challenges of facilitating peace through international intervention.




The Importance of Recognizing Intrastate Divisions

Debates over power sharing, autonomy, constitutional reengineering, and

intervention create significant fissures within the government of a conflict-affected

state. Contentious issues can become particularly public and bitter in democratic

states, such as in Sri Lanka. In a multi-party system, numerous contrary opinions on

how to deal with conflict are inevitable. The existing literature on conflict

management tends to view the state as a unitary actor with a rationally defined set of

preferences.59 The case study presented here shows that the state’s internal divisions

can be as germane to the conflict as external factors. Often, the government does not

have a single set of preferences. Rather, opposition and ruling parties can have

contrary positions, based on electoral calculations. Conflicts in other democracies,

such as India and the United Kingdom, reflect a similar dynamic. Recognizing the

non-unitary characteristics of many conflict-affected states will encourage third-

parties to pay greater attention to the need to develop an internal consensus before an

agreement is signed. This dynamic is particularly strong in democratic states.

In order for international intervention to be effective, third-party actors must

have a keen sensitivity to the motivations of the government to compromise (or not)

with rebelling groups. The Sri Lankan case challenges our earlier understanding of

when and why governments seek to reach negotiated settlements with insurgents.

The past literature has argued that conflict actors are more receptive to negotiation

when a mutually hurting stalemate has been reached.60 A more recent study by

Walter (2003) shows that governments are less likely to negotiate if territory is at

stake and if the state is also facing other, potentially disgruntled minority groups.

She contends that if a country has only one significant challenger (as is the case in

Sri Lanka), it is rational for the government to negotiate rather than bear the high

costs of fighting. 61

An unpacking of the ‘black box’ of the Sri Lankan state challenges some of these

arguments. First, the country is unlikely to face significant threats from minority

groups other than the Tamils. Second, it is evident that a military victory is unlikely,

if not impossible. Third, the conflict has reached a stage where secession – that is,

actual loss of territory – is far less likely than before. Fourth, the financial incentives

for ending the conflict are enormous. The Sri Lankan government is unwilling to

negotiate because of its reputation concerns with its own domestic voters. In other

words, its position is driven by electoral compulsions.

Being aware of this dynamic is critical for the efficacy of third party intervener.

The latter can no longer assume that territorial or military questions are the most

germane issues in the conflict. Instead, building alliances with the various domestic,

often conflicting, constituents is essential for a viable peace process. From a policy

perspective, it may not be feasible for an external actor to play an active role in

structuring or modifying domestic politics. Nonetheless, an awareness of this dynamic

is critical because it highlights the fact that interveners cannot simply address two sets

of demands – one of the government and the other of the rebel groups. Rather, they

must grapple with a multitude of demands within the government.




Democracy and Negotiations

The Sri Lankan case challenges the argument that democracies are more able and

willing to negotiate with minorities.62 The literature on international conflict has

long argued that, when dealing with international crises, democracies generate

distinctive patterns and outcomes because of the public nature of political

competition.63 When there is strong domestic consensus, the credibility and strength

of the decision can be very high. In the absence of such consensus, credibility signals

are very weak. The finding of this article extends this argument to the arena of

domestic conflicts. The Sri Lankan case highlights the difficulties of balancing

electoral compulsions with the need for compromise. International intervention can

mitigate the problems created by internal dissent by giving consistent support to

particular peace moves and encouraging domestic constituents to recognize the

long-term political benefits of peace. Controversial forms of action might, however,

exacerbate intrastate divisions.


This paper has argued that the growing body of literature on intervention must take

into account the interactions at the systemic, state and intrastate levels. In other

words, situating third-party action within the domestic political context of the

conflict-affected state will yield valuable insights. Such an approach marks a shift

from the prevailing literature, which tends to assume that civil wars occur in anarchic

environments, where domestic institutions are non-existent or virtually ineffective.

The case study of Sri Lanka showed a contrasting finding. The country’s relatively

stable institutional structure has created a culture of democratic politics that is both

an opportunity and a significant challenge. On the one hand, the island’s long history

of competitive multiparty elections provides avenues for inclusive policies and open

dialogue. Its relative political stability means that the international community does

not have to invest resources in creating entirely new security or governance

structures. On the other hand, the practice of ethnic outbidding hampers the efficacy

of international intervention. Successive governments have had an inconsistent

response to mediatory efforts, because of concerns regarding electoral performance.

External intervention must not be seen as usurping the country’s sovereignty

or favoring either the government or the rebelling forces. In sum, international

intervention in Sri Lanka must work with existing structures and actors without

overtly challenging the country’s pre-existing political institutions. These findings

are transferable to other cases, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Papua

New Guinea, where violent political conflict has not precluded the existence of

relatively stable and democratic institutions. In several countries, including

Mozambique, Mali and Tajikistan, third parties have played a valuable role in

conflict management. They achieved success not by offering independent incentives

but by mediating in order to making the negotiating process more credible.64

A closer examination of such cases might provide us with a valuable understanding

of the role of facilitative intervention in peace processes.





I wish to thank Mark I. Lichbach, R. William Ayres, Neil DeVotta and the anonymous reviewers at Civil Wars for their helpful comments and suggestions. Previous versions of this article were presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, San Diego, in March 2006 and the Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, Denver in September 2005.


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20. Peceny and Stanley (note 1). 21. Walter (note 4). 22. Neil DeVotta, Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri

Lanka (Stanford UP 2004); Ronald Rotberg (ed.), Creating Peace in Sri Lanka (Washington DC: Brookings 1999).

23. Zartman (note 17). 24. Ann Hironaka, Neverending Wars: The International Community, Weak States, and the Perpetuation

of Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 2005); Edward Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 2001).

25. Atul Kohli, Democracy and Discontent: India’s Growing Crisis of Governance (NY: Cambridge UP 1991); Jack Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (NY: W.W. Norton 2000).

26. There was a minor intervention by Britain in 1997–98. Japan, a major donor to Sri Lanka, has also been interested in seeing a resolution to the conflict. India has continued to play an influential role, but with a diminished intensity of involvement.

27. Alan J. Bullion, India, Sri Lanka and the Tamil Crisis 1976–1999: An International Perspective (NY: Cassell 1995); Stanley J. Tambiah, Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy (Univ. of Chicago Press 1986).

28. Dennis Austin, Democracy and Violence in India and Sri Lanka (NY: Council on Foreign Relations 1995); Bullion (note 27); DeVotta (note 22); Snyder (note 25); Tambiah (note 27).

29. DeVotta (note 22); John Sislin and Frederic S. Pearson, Arms and Ethnic Conflict (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield 2001).

30. Bullion (note 27). 31. Eric Silver, ‘Colombo Peace Moves Collapse / Indian Efforts to Revive Sri Lankan Peace Talks

Falter’, The Guardian, 9 Nov. 1985.




32. John Elliott, ‘Gandhi Greets Sri Lanka Peace Deal’, Financial Times (London), 12 Oct. 1985. 33. John Elliott, ‘Gloomy Outlook for Tamil Talks’, Financial Times (London), 14 Aug. 1985; Eric

Silver, ‘Tamil Peace Talks Near Collapse over NewKillings/Bhutan Talks Endangered by Upsurge of Violence in Sri Lanka’, The Guardian (London), 19 Aug. 1985; Eric Silver, ‘Time Running out for Sri Lanka / Peace Negotiations to Resume between Government and Tamil Separatists in Bhutan’, The Guardian (London), 21 Aug. 1985; Vyvyan Tenorio, ‘Sri Lankan Adversaries Dig in Heels as Gandhi Tries to Save Talks’, Christian Science Monitor, 29 Aug. 1985; Steven R. Weisman, ‘India Role Grows in Sri Lanka Talks’, New York Times, 15 July 1985.

34. Bullion (note 27); K. M. De Silva (ed.), Sri Lanka: Problems of Governance (Kandy: International Centre for Ethnic Studies 1993); Tambiah (note 27).

35. Bullion (note 27). 36. Sumantra Bose, States, Nations, Sovereignty: Sri Lanka, India and the Tamil Eelam Movement (New

Delhi: Sage 1994). 37. ‘Sri Lanka: Patting the Tigers’, The Economist, 22 Oct. 1994. 38. Niresh Eliatamby, ‘Sri Lankan Soldiers Launch Attack Amid Peace Moves’, Associated Press, 26

Sept. 1994; Amal Jayasinghe, ‘Presidential Candidate, 56 Others Die in Suspected Tiger Attack’, Agence France Presse, 24 Oct. 1994; N. Ram, ‘We Are Willing to Talk, I Don’t Like to Settle This by War’, Frontline, 19 Dec. 1998–1 Jan. 1999.

39. Dexter Cruez, ‘Fierce Fighting Leaves at Least 200 Tamil Rebels Dead’, Associated Press, 28 July 1995.

40. Rotberg (note 22). 41. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, ‘A Norwegian Initiative’, Frontline, 4–17 March 2000. 42. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, ‘The Facilitator Fracas’, Frontline, 23 June–6 July 2001. 43. DeVotta (note 22); Rajat Ganguly, ‘Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict: At a Crossroad between Peace and

War’, Third World Quarterly 25/5 (2004) pp.903–18; Nirupama Subramaniam, ‘Back to the Freezer’, Frontline, 19 Aug.–1 Sept. 2000; Nirupama Subramaniam, ‘A New Package’, Frontline, 22 July–1Aug. 2000.

44. Ganguly (note 43). 45. Christine Jayasinghe, ‘Sri Lanka: Calling a Truce’, India Today, 11 March 2002; ‘LTTE, Govt Agree

on Measures to Ensure Safety of Muslims’, The Press Trust of India, 31 Oct. 2002; ‘Monks Protest against Norwegian-Backed Peace Process in Sri Lanka’, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 5 March 2002.

46. Some observers have questioned the sincerity of the LTTE’s interest in such a framework. 47. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, ‘A Tactical Shift’, Frontline, 21 Dec. 2002–3 Jan. 2003. 48. V.S. Sambandan, ‘Heady Start for Peace’, Frontline, 12–25 Oct. 2002. 49. V.S. Sambandan, ‘The Long Road to Thailand’, Frontline, 14–27 Sept. 2002. 50. Jeyaraj, ‘A Tactical Shift’ (note 47). 51. DeVotta (note 22) p.189. 52. Ibid.; Rotberg (note 22). 53. Ram Mannikkalingam, ‘Political Power over Ethnic Identity’, Frontline, 22 June–5 July 2002. 54. Andrew Moravcsik, ‘Introduction: Integrating International and Domestic Theories of International

Bargaining’, in Peter B. Evans, Harold K. Jacobson and Robert D. Putnam (eds.) Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press 1993).

55. DeVotta (note 22); Hironaka (note 24). 56. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, Pamela Aall (eds.), Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in

a Complex World (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace 1999). 57. DeVotta (note 22); Snyder (note 25) 58. Hironaka (note 24). 59. See, for example, Walter (note 15). 60. Donald Rothchild, ‘Ethnic sBargaining and the Management of Intense Conflict’, International

Negotiation 2 (1997) pp.1–20; I. William Zartman, ‘Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond’, in Paul Stern and Daniel Druckman (eds.), International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War (Washington DC: National Academy Press 2000).

61. Walter (note 15). 62. Gurr (note 1). 63. Schultz (note 13). 64. Ibid.



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