Last week, for
the first time in the history of the ethnic conflict, a high-powered
international consortium came together in Oslo to pledge support for the
ongoing peace negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the
Tamil Tigers. There has never been a more opportune time to talk peace.
Nay, push for peace. Consider. For the first time since the start of the
horrific civil war in Sri Lanka, due to unique changes in international
relations dynamics, following the September 11 tragedy, exacerbated by
events such as the Kuta beach disaster, Sri Lanka and its forgotten war
has gained international importance. To date, the Norwegian facilitated
peace process following the historic cease fire agreement signed between
the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) is the only agreement in a civil conflict that seems to
concerted efforts of the facilitators and the parties to the
negotiations have played a vital role in this success, one cannot ignore
the huge effect the sudden change in international opinion towards
groups who use terrorist tactics to achieve their goals has had on the
parties to the conflict.
States has categorically stated it would "play its part"
towards implementing the peace agreement and actively participate in the
reconstruction of Sri Lanka. Whether the LTTE rejects the contents of
the statements made by the United States is immaterial. The stance of
the world's most powerful country is clear. US Deputy Secretary of
State, Richard Armitage while praising and encouraging the positive
steps taken by the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka to ensure peace,
has urged the LTTE to go one step further and renounce violence, thus
demonstrating to the Sri Lankan public and the international community
that the LTTE has abandoned its armed struggle for a separate state and
instead have accepted the sovereignty of a Sri Lankan government over
all the country and respect human rights.
declaration signed by 40 countries from the Asia Pacific region, North
America and Europe at the donor conference held in Oslo last week was an
impetus for the peace process, and another step taken in the right
direction. Another donor conference, to be held in Tokyo in 2003, with a
greater focus on longer-term financial assistance would further
strengthen the resolve of those who strive for peace.
Negotiator, Anton Balasingham already assured the international
community in Oslo last week that the parties in conflict have ceased
violence under the truce agreement and was sincerely and firmly
committed to peace and a negotiated political settlement.
In his Heroes'
Day speech last Wednesday, Tiger Leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran,
following the assurances already made by Balasingham at the first two
rounds of peace talks held in Thailand, for the first time publicly
announced he was willing to accept internal self determination. This was
the clearest statement yet that the LTTE was prepared to give up its
demand for a separate state.
also well aware of the international pressures. In his speech on
Wednesday he admitted that "we can't ignore the realities of
today's world. We have to realise this and adjust our path to
The road to
peace is long and arduous. There will be many pitfalls and setbacks.
However, there is no other way for Sri Lanka except the path to peace.
And a negotiated settlement based on economic progress and enjoyment of
a peace dividend is necessarily people driven.
before the Sri Lankan public are these. Does the public want war or
peace? Development or deprivation? Unity or division? If we choose war,
can we still attract large numbers into the armed forces? The government
coffers are empty. For the first time, last year negative economic
growth was recorded. Sri Lanka is now in a near state of bankruptcy.
Thus, the government will have to resort to compulsory conscription.
Are those who
now shout war willing to send their sons to the war front? Are they
prepared to see them come home in body-bags? Will these Colombo society
pundits and expatriates living in safe climes and educating their
children in Ivy league universities be willing to sacrifice their sons?
Will those who cry war while sipping Martinis on the cocktail circuit be
willing to send their sons to war? Even at the very height of the
conflict, while army camps were continuously being over-run by the LTTE
during the reign of the previous government, the night clubs in Colombo
were packed with rich, drunken revellers.
media have now to be doubly vigilant and meticulously responsible.
Publishing screaming headlines with out-of-context quotes in order to
whip-up public emotion and ethnic disunity has no place in the present
context. Indeed, the headlines this past week in some newspapers that
the LTTE would not renounce violence and had rejected Richard Armitage's
call to do so, is a case in point.
reading of the statements made by both Balasingham and Prabhakaran will
reveal that the LTTE rejected rightly or wrongly the label of terrorists
resorting to pure violence they felt was conferred on them by the United
It is also easy
for political opportunists, extremist groups like the JVP, opposition
political parties using the situation to gain political mileage, arms
dealers, and those benefiting directly or indirectly from a war
situation to whip up public frenzy and cause panic.
Chandrika Kumaratunga's call for swift action to close down the LTTE
police stations and kangaroo courts maintained in LTTE controlled areas
is somewhat ridiculous considering the fact that these police stations
and courts have been in operation since 1993 and continued through the
period the People's Alliance governed this country. Meanwhile, the
government has issued a statement that it strongly disapproves of the
establishment of such courts as Sri Lanka has only one legal system.
The Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission has confirmed that the kangaroo courts and police
stations remain only in LTTE controlled areas. This, then, is just
another example of irresponsible politicking at a time when the
President, the Prime Minister, the cabinet and the Sri Lankan public
should cooperate to bring peace to our land.
This is not to
say that given the past record of the LTTE, the government of Sri Lanka
should trust them 100%. But every chance for peace must be given. The
Sri Lankan public has to face reality. The reality is that the LTTE has,
for over a decade, controlled large areas in the north. We cannot
approach the peace process with naivete. Neither should we approach it
with closed minds and bigoted ideas. As much as there are those who
oppose peace in the south, there will be those who oppose peace within
the LTTE cadre. With 17,000 of their men dead in pursuit of an illusory
separate state, the LTTE leadership will need to answer to such hardline
queries as much as the government of Sri Lanka has to do so in the
south. It is important that these hardliners are quickly convinced that
peace is the only way forward for all communities.