Two articles in this issue, one on the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the other titled "The fourth peace process" appearing on this page, raises many questions now in the minds of decent, patriotic Sri Lankans on the dangers inherent in the path that Sri Lanka must tread in the search for that elusive peace. These are not warmongers. They are honourable people who love their country as much as anybody else, have lived here and will die here. To dismiss their apprehensions out of hand, as some peaceniks tend to do in their enthusiasm for processes that at least in the cases of some foreign funded NGOs are self-serving, is rank foolishness.
There is no need to labour the self-evident fact that without peace there will be little hope for this country and all its people - born or unborn. As Mr. K. Godage, a former member of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service who retired as Additional Foreign Secretary has unequivocally said in his article, "if theres a 25% chance of achieving peace, we must give it a 100% shot." Nobody should quarrel with that contention. Indeed, it is a cause of great satisfaction that this is exactly what the new government is doing and that attempt needs the fullest support of all our people across barriers or race, religion or politics.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been very clear in his public assertions that the road before us all is going to be hard and treacherous. While there are some among us who believe in a military solution, the commanders of the armed forces who should and would know best, have on the occasions that they have spoken out, clearly said that a negotiated settlement was imperative and that theres no military solution. This is what the international community too is telling us - even after September 11 when the western view against terrorism hardened as it never had before. We must all hope that this international pressure is being applied not only on the Government of Sri Lanka - which really needs no pressurizing on this score - but most pertinently on the LTTE.
Wickremesinghe, we are confident, will be receptive to honest apprehensions just as much as he will reject the arguments of those who have fattened on this war and has a vested interest in keeping the pot on the boil. Sadly, there is a group that has made billion of rupees out of the blood that has been shed by tens of thousands of people who have died in this conflict, the thousands who have been crippled and otherwise disabled, and the hundreds of thousands who have been made refugees. Over 60,000 people are estimated to have died over the 18 years and more of this was and that is a conservative estimate. A lot more blood will be spilled if we allow the war to be prolonged. But a small but powerful lobby of vested interests rooted in the arms industry and weapon sales would like to see the fighting continue. That is something that nobody can countenance.
The pitfalls are many and it is essential that the decision makers keep both their eyes and ears open as the country embarks in what must be a slow and tortuous process. There can be no quick fix. Every step must be taken with the utmost care. That is what the new government is doing, addressing the humanitarian issues first before getting on to what must necessarily be the more difficult substantive issues. LTTE tacticians, for reasons that are obvious, are demanding that the proscription imposed on them by Colombo after the Dalada Maligawa bomb in 1998 be lifted as a pre-condition for direct negotiations to begin. Rightly or wrongly they believe that this would help them to get the bans slapped down by western nations removed or relaxed. That may not be necessarily true because the action taken by those nations have been largely in their own interests and not in ours.
The confidence building measures that have begun included the relaxation of the flow of goods to the LTTE-held areas in the Wanni as well as the movement of people from the uncleared to cleared areas in both directions. Those of us who sweat and swear without our fans and lights for a couple of hours must surely understand the plight of those who have literally lived in the Middle Ages for a number of years for whom a bottle of aerated water is a luxury and a box of matches an expensive purchase. But while making life easier for them as is now happening, the safeguards must remain. That would slow the process, no doubt, but the forward movement must be step by step.
In Mallavi last week, S. P. Thamil Selvam, the LTTEs political chief, told reporters who had after many years crossed into the uncleared Wanni that the ban imposed on them must be lifted for direct negotiations to begin. Colombo has not responded so far with cabinet spokesman G. L. Peiris saying for the moment that substantive issues will be taken up later. Although kites have been flown, no formal requests from the LTTE on matters like lifting the ban or the peace talks being held in South India have yet been presented. Right now the concentration is on stabilizing the existing ceasefire into a more permanent cessation of hostilities. Hopefully, this can be achieved some time in February if all goes well. Meanwhile, the hemin hemin (slowly, slowly) approach that is now being taken is the wisest course.
Your comments to the Editor