unity vital for peace
Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundranayagam says though the Memorandum of
Understanding (MoU) was signed between the government and the LTTE
about one and a half years ago, the north has not witnessed any
major development. The Bishop says the government must act fast to
restore normal life in
peninsula by expediting development work. He says whatever
decisions taken at the peace talks should be honoured by both the
government and the LTTE so that it would be beneficial to the
citizens who are still suffering in Jaffna. In an interview with
The Sunday Leader the Bishop said he gives all credit to Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for accepting the LTTE’s ceasefire
agreement and also showing a keen and genuine willingness to
continue negotiations with the Tigers. “The Premier also took
another bold step to visit the north east and assure the people of
a lasting peace. We appreciate it,” the Bishop said.
Following are excerpts:
Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundranayagam
Wilson Gnanadass in Jaffna
How do you view the resettlement and
reconstruction programmes of the government that have been
initiated after the signing of the MoU?
There is much more room for reconstruction in the north. The important
part of the MoU was to bring about normalcy to the north east. We
expected an immediate influx of refugees and that the resettlement would
go on smoothly in the north east, but to our dismay this has not
is a delay in putting the resettlement and reconstruction programme in
motion. We understand that there are some 300,000
landmines buried in the north and east and unless they are
cleared, nothing could be done to resettle the displaced people.
According to available reports about 300 people who went to resettle in
their homes have become victims of landmines. Besides, 30% of the land
in Jaffna is occupied by the armed soldiers and these areas are declared
as High Security Zones (HSZ). As the residences of most of the people
come under these HSZs, the people are living in temples, schools and
other temporary shelters.
What in your view do you think are the causes for the delay? Do you
think that there is no willingness on the part of the government?
As agreed upon in the previous talks the resettlement programme should
be given priority and most of all the army should consider this not only
from the security point of view but also from the humanitarian point of
view. If the army continues to occupy public places
resettlement is not going to be possible and the plight of the
people is going to remain the same. Landmines also remain a big risk in
the north. More than 60% of the houses within the Jaffna municipality
are damaged and most of the
public buildings are also destroyed. Therefore, it is necessary to
rebuild public as well as private buildings. Also the economy of the
north depends on fishing and farming and these have been affected due to
the prolonged war. Therefore these two sectors have to be assisted
But since the signing of the MoU, some
buildings have been repaired in certain areas. Are you not
We can’t deny the fact that during the period of the ceasefire a
certain amount of infrastructure development has taken place. But even
building projects have slowed down owing to higher prices of material
like sand and stones. And this becomes a barrier to continue such
projects. On the other hand though many countries have pledged
assistance for the north east at the last meeting in Tokyo, there is a
lack of an authorised body empowered to give necessary authority to
carry out the rebuilding and development work. There is an urgent need
for an interim arrangement to carry out the development proposals that
have been decided upon. The perception of the people of the north east
is that the government is dragging its feet in the tasks of rebuilding
and developing the north east.
The Japanese Special Envoy Akashi who met the LTTE recently in
Kilinochchi clearly stated that there cannot be financial assistance to
Sri Lanka if the LTTE fails to participate in talks. How do you view
The resumption of peace talks is very crucial to resolve the long
standing ethnic problem in the country. But the work of rebuilding and
developing the north east should be entrusted to a strong authority to
carry out the implementation with efficiency and transparency.
Therefore, the Japanese government also should understand the need for
power sharing from the center to the periphery for effective
implementation of the proposed development programmes.
On the other hand the LTTE has also dragged its feet when it comes to
participating in the peace talks. Do you think if the LTTE agrees to
resume negotiations, the development process could be expedited?
There is a reason for the LTTE carefully
treading the path of negotiations since this is the fourth time peace
efforts are being made in Sri Lanka ever since the problems between the
government and the LTTE began. Twenty years of hostility and the
previous bad experiences in dealing with the Sinhala leaders have
brought in a lot of suspicion on the willingness of the major
communities to share power with the minorities. Therefore, the LTTE is
cautious in approaching the peace negotiations and are asking for
division amongst the leaders in the south and the lack of single
mindedness in solving the ethnic problem has also made the LTTE weary of
these peace negotiations. Thus, it is understandable for the LTTE to go
slow and with a lot of caution. It is also said that if we prolong the
negotiations too much, the attention of the world and the donor
countries would be diverted by other happenings in the world. Therefore,
LTTE should also bear this in mind that we have to rely on the goodwill
and cooperation of the other countries and try to sort out outstanding
issues with the government and return to the negotiating table as soon
There is a fear looming in the south that the LTTE will continue to
avoid participating at the peace talks and
ultimatelygo back to
war. As a leader of the Catholic community in Jaffna do you think this
is likely to happen and how do you think these
fears could be allayed?
The fear is very legitimate and understandable given the past record of
the LTTE. Nevertheless, the Tiger Leader has categorically stated that
he is not for war but for negotiations. But if
war is thrust upon the LTTE and the Tamil people by the
government’s delays, the non-cooperation of President Kumaratunga, and
the provocation of the war mongering anti peace political forces in the
south, I would not be surprised if the situation leads to the resumption
of war once again. But our earnest hope is that the leadership on both
sides will not take such drastic
action that would lead to destruction.
Are you satisfied with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts
to bring about peace in Sri Lanka and the manner in which the peace
process is being carried out?
We give credit to the Prime Minister for having taken a bold step to
accept the ceasefire proposal of the LTTE and the decision to talk to
the Tigers and negotiate with them. The Premier’s action certainly
differs from that of President Kumaratunga’s ‘war for peace’
concept. Moreover, after a gap of so many years the Premier took another
bold step to visit the north and east assuring the Tamil people peace.
However, we are not happy with the present delay in implementing
whatever that had been agreed upon during the peace negotiations. While
understanding the opposition the Prime Minister has to face in the south
we expect him to act decisively in the best interest of the Tamils in
north and east to implement whatever that was discussed and agreed upon
during the talks, thus paving the way for future talks.
President Kumaratunga has threatened to de-merge the north east that was
temporarily merged under the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord. How do you view
After the 1987 peace accord with the Indian government, the north east
was merged and this has been accepted by the entire country and even a
North East Provincial Council has been
functioning since then. I believe the merger of the north east is
pivotal for a solution to the ethnic problem. Therefore, the
President’s threat to de-merge the north east would only strike at the
very heart of the problem for the restoration of peace in the country.
Do you justify the Muslim claim that they too should be given a separate
council within the north east?
The Muslim question is an important factor in solving the ethnic
problem. They have been part and parcel of the north east, hence they
should be first resettled in their places and they should also be made
to feel that they are a part of the solution. The Leader of the LTTE has
made known these facts and we feel patience on their part and being
cautious about divisive factors trying to disturb their unity is
important. We understand amongst them there are elements trying to
disunite the party. So they must be more careful about these attempts
and try to have a better focus on the whole process.
The LTTE has clearly stated that unless there is consensus between the
two major political parties in the south, there cannot be peace in Sri
Lanka. They are also keen to ensure that both these parties accept
whatever proposals they put forward on the interim administration. But
in actual fact, both the PA and UNF do not seem to be able to arrive at
a consensus on any issue. How do you think then peace could be achieved?
This is what our people who are interested in peace have been repeatedly
saying. They have made it clear that there must be consensus between the
PA and the UNP, between the President and the Prime Minister. If there
is no consensus between these two forces it could be very difficult to
arrive at a lasting solution to the ethnic problem. The long standing
enmity between the major parties should be set aside for the sake of
rebuilding the lost peace in our motherland.
Prison’s Chief who seeks freedom for prisoners
General, Prisons Department, Rumy Marzook does not believe in
imprisonment, opting instead to believe in alternate punishment such as
compulsory community service.
a petty criminal is remanded because he can’t pay Rs. 1,000, his
entire freedom is gone. He languishes in prison, his family falls apart
and children run astray,” he says.
is the kind of man who does not sit back and wait for things to happen,
choosing instead to make a difference — something he has done in a big