The peace debate in the South
NGOs — peace-makers or money-makers?

by Mallika Wanigasundara
‘Jaffna has ‘pumped out’ all its Sinhalese and its Muslims and has become completely mono-ethnic than is envisaged even in the Thesavalamai laws. The north is depopulated and the South, particularly the Western province has become multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and is hence a much more interesting place to live in.’

‘Sinhala is increasingly the lingua franca than it was 30 years ago. 90-95 percent speak Sinhalese and this has become so by natural social forces and not by legislation’. — Dr. Susantha Goonatilleke

A few days ago the Organisation of Professional Associations organised a seminar on ‘Peace initiatives in Sri Lanka’. The two speakers on the ideological divide were Jehan Perera, holder of Economics and Law degrees from Harward, Media Director of the National Peace Council and contributor to newspapers, and Dr. Susantha Goonatilleke, engineer and sociologist, well-known political commentator, lecturer at several universities, and UN Consultant and writer of books on knowledge systems, science and technology.

Much of what Jehan Perera said has already appeared in the Midweek Review of The Island which appeared on Thursday Feb 1st. So, I am summarising some of his comments and clarifications.

Jehan Perera made the following comments:

1. He advocates a compromise Federal solution to the North/East conflict, called the ethic conflict by some and a terrorist movement by others.

2. Governance in Sri Lanka should move away from majoritarian rule which enables the majority community to capture power and make unilateral decisions.

3. The LTTE is not losing much sleep over the loss of territory, but is anxious about the impending ban of the LTTE in the UK. It is playing politics by declaring the ceasefires.

4. But, the government should take the risk of reciprocity, and shy away from war, and refrain from trying to maximise its bargaining power, by capturing the whole of Jaffna and particularly Elephant Pass.

Jehan Perera believes that there is an advance, a great deal of progress in the peace process signified by the co-operation between the government and the Opposition. Two principle outlines have emerged in a forward movement and the building blocks are in place, he observed.

He did not think it wise for the government to reject the ceasefire outright and it was unsound for the government’s rejection to be so out and dry. The rationale for the unilateral ceasefires, he said, was not because of the LTTE’s weakness both in firepower and in leadership. One upmanship, he felt, was what the government was trying, and urged that that this should be minimised.

‘The ceasefires have helped to retain the LTTE’s credibility, and it is ‘probably’-not due to military weakness. Perera said (what is quite clearly in the thinking of the government and in the minds of many people)-that if the LTTE is in the midst of peace talks, Britain would find it difficult to ban the LTTE. But then, he realises that the government is not prepared to give UK a way out. It is going for a psychological victory and maximum bargaining power.

Credibility, of course is with the ‘international community’ which he did not define and did not say whether it included the vast countries of China, India, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia. Perera gives credit to Norway, which is one of the funders of the NPC, for providing a framework for peace talks, about which neither side had expressed disapproval. He spelt it out as: 1. Facilitation in the context of a united Sri Lanka; 2. Tamil ‘aspirations’ being met — the parameters of which were not clarified.

There was some cross talk at discussion time, but the gentlemen of the OPA and its guests did not lose their cool, their voices were kept down and their exchanges polite.

But Tilak Karunaratne, MP (Sihala Urumaya) making a surprise appearance was something else, and did not agree with all this. Jehan Perera had compared the Rs. 80 odd billion spent on the war with a total budget of some Rs. 50 million of the NGOs, advocating peace.

This is our money, but NGOs get foreign money, Karunaratne boomed. These peace dealers, are they wholesalers or retailers, he asked. Are you genuinely interested in the peace business or is it your livelihood, which he said was the real business of NGOs promoting peace. It was more like Parliament and Karunaratne demanded to know the NPC’s budget, Perera’s salary and who the funders were.

Perera came back: His salary was Rs. 30,000; if he stayed on in the US he could have earned much more. The NPC’s budget is Rs. 10 million and was funded by Norway, Sweden, Canada, Holland and Japan.

Mythmaking came under fire from both Karunaratne and Goonatilleke. There was no Eastern province till the 1830s when Britain carved it out of the Kandyan kingdom lands, Karunaratne argued.

Perera wanted to know from Karunaratne why he does not advocate conscription and why the elite do not send their sons to war? It is his view that if the elite send their sons to the armed forces its quality would improve and the momemtum for peace too would escalate because they do not want their sons to die, as it happened in the US.

‘We do not need conscription’, Karunaratne said. ‘If the conduct of war is given over to competent generals and it is not politicised we could win it,’ he said. ‘The US was fighting somebody else’s war in another country, but this is our war,’ he said.

Earlier Perera had said that the LTTE seemed to have changed, When he was asked whether they had changed or modified their Thimpu principles, he said he was not aware. Almost all the questions were fired at him and he had to admit that the house did not agree with his vision.

There was one intervention by a young woman who asked whether the LTTE’s newsletter ‘Hot Spring’ could be relied on, since Goonatilleke referred to it.

Mr. H. S. Subasinghe, a former President of the OPA in his summing up agreed that the general view of the house was that foreign facilitation was unwelcome. Dr Susantha Goonatilleke titled his presentation ‘The scramble for peace initiatives and for pieces of Sri Lanka’. He said: ‘The country requires peace, but this requires the dispelling of myths. The people and leaders of foreign countries are ignorant about our country. In such a vacuum, well-entrenched, easily identifiable groups can feed lies to foreigners and they do so even to locals’. He went on to dismantle some of the myths.

‘In past centuries in Sri Lanka’s bigger cities and even in the smaller ones like Dambadeniya, Gampola there have existed multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, cosmopolitan communities. It was a nation with an unique identity from the intermingling of different cultural strands!’

‘Jaffna has ‘pumped out’ all its Sinhalese and its Muslims and has become completely mono-ethnic than is envisaged even in the Thesavalamai laws. The north is depopulated and the South, particularly the Western province has become multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and is hence a much more interesting place to live in.’

‘Sinhala is increasingly the lingua franca than it was 30 years ago. 90-95 percent speak Sinhalese and this has become so by natural social forces and not by legislation’.

‘Apart from firepower there is psychological warfare, the tools of which are’ truths, mistruths and lies’. Among the most brutal lies Neelan Tiruchelvam’s and Amirthalingam’s TULF officially sponsored a publication called ‘Genocide in Sri Lanka’ which said that the Sinhalese eat Tamil flesh and Buddhist monks rape Tamil women!’

He went onto say that war is the only road to peace and this has been the norm and he gave examples. The military attack on Sri Lankan sovereignty began long before 1983 and he gives some of its history in a paper which was distributed. There is a plethora of authorities he quotes-research studies, history, ancient literature, newspapers and journals, Hansard which I shall mention at the end of this article.

Dr. Goonetilleke referred in detail to the nexus between the Sri Lanka Tamils and the Tamil racist movements in South India since the 19th century. They moved and developed in tandem, and different Tamil groups here linked up with other Tamil groups in S. India.

Eventually the investigation into the Rajiv Gandhi assassination revealed elaborate plans for a Greater Eelaam which included South India. With Weerappan’s banditry, more information surfaced for a Visala Tamil Nadu which includes Sri Lanka.

Dr. Goonatilleke referred to what he called the rumps of the LSSP and the CP which seemed to know less than its pioneering leaders like Colvin R. de Silva who said: ‘We will never concede a Tamil homeland. This is a division of the country’ (Hansard Jan 9 1966). The late Sarath Muttetuwegama said that mere federalism will not guarantee harmonious ethnic relations.

He recalled the former US Ambassador’s telling comment on the Indian incursion: ‘We (Americans) still blame the Japanese, but ironically the Sri Lankan people do not blame India’ (Rohan Gunaratne 1993). This amnesia, says Goonatilleke, is carefully manufactured by the foreign funded NGOs.

Against the oft-repeated criticism that the Sinhala Buddhists seek to unfairly give Buddhism prominence, Goonatilleke spelt out the nexus between state and church in Britain and Norway. In the case of Norway there has been so much hostile criticism of its constitution that it needs no repetition for lack of space.

The Church of England is the official Church. The Head of State is by law Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church. The Queen must be a full, confirmed member of this sect, the Church of England. In her oath of office she promises to maintain the Church. She appoints Archbishops, and Bishops and they can resign only on royal authority. The Lords Spiritual sit in the House of Lords. The Queen opens the General Synod, every five years and it is the supreme authority of the Church of England.

In Sri Lanka these facts never seem to surface.

Goonatilleke charges the Norwegian Redd Barna (Save the Children Fund) of transferring tons of thousands of Tamils to the Wanni, in order to flesh the fictional claim of a Tamil homeland. The present Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg was the Director Redd Barna at the time (G. Weerasinghe, Wargika Samuluwa Ha Samulu Sanharaya’ Divaina July, 2000).

Goonatilleke makes the further charge that the present Tiger cadres are increasingly drawn from those settlers who were placed in the Wanni by persons like Westborg. In addition Norway distorts the picture by funding such programmes as Sudu Nelum, Thavalama, and the Young Asia TV program called ‘SATI’ also funded by a Norwegian organisation, Worldview International.

Goonatilleke referred to the fact that under the UN Charter, the word ‘self determination’ applies only to countries freeing themselves from colonial rule. Otherwise the world will break up into thousands of little pieces-India into perhaps 500. The North/East is Lebensraum for the LTTE.

For those countries which wish for genuine peace in Sri Lanka, he said they should pursue the same law for Prabhakaran which they are applying to Pinochet, Milosovic Slobodan. There is already an Interpol notice out for Prabhakaran for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

Among the references he made were: Pujavaliya (13th C), Dambadeni Asna (14thC), Venkatachalam; 1987 Piyasena and Senadheera 1986, Rohan Gunaratna 1990, Sadeshpande 1992, Palanithural, Mohanasundaram 1993, Narayan 1994, Guruge 1965 and 1984, Kailasapathy 1984, Prof. K. M. de Silva, geographer Prof. G. H. Pieris, cartographer A. D. N. Fernando, publications by the Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, local Sinhala and English newspapers, Indian journals such as India Today, the Hindu newspaper, the Economic and political Weekly and Tamil Voice and Hot Spring, the Tiger organs.