Changing of Mindsets
A tranquil air pervades the country, now. In Colombo that tensed up feeling is gone. Sentries at check points who were on tenterhooks, fearing suicide women bombers, are now ogling at girls passing by. Most of the barricades are gone. Motorists are passing by the once heavily barricaded Temple Trees and VIP bungalows of Bullers Road. Bombs are not exploding anywhere in the country. The Vavuniya- Elephant Pass Road over which many fierce battles raged is now being de-mined by both the LTTE and the government forces. And the arch political foes, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremasinghe were snapped at the Independence Day ceremony in very cosy postures, which made the front-page picture in most newspapers,
Is this the dawn of peace?
On the other hand, news reports from the Eastern Province said that school children in the remote villages of the Eastern Province were fleeing to Batticaloa town with LTTE child hunters scouring schools in search of school children. At least one child per family for the LTTE was their demand, reports said. President Kumaratunga expressed deep concern about the kidnapping that resulted in LTTE spokesman in London, Balasingham, accusing her of attempting to derail the quickening peace process. The government does not seem to take a serious notice of LTTE forcible recruitment of children. Defence Minister Tilak Marapone was quoted in a weekend newspaper saying nonchalantly that recruitment may be there because there are vacancies in those ranks. And that they may be doing what we are doing to maintain forces at the present levels. He failed to see a difference between voluntary recruitment of adults by the Sri Lankan forces and forcible conscription of children by the LTTE. On the other hand, Prof. G. L. Peiris at yesterdays press conference had said: There is deep concern about humanitarian issues and civil rights. The government in the proposed cessation of hostilities has addressed this.
This attitude of the government is quite in contrast to that of the PA government whose Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar took up the issue of child conscription for war to the United Nations itself.
This soft approach of the UNF to the LTTE may be to prevent rocking the Peace Boat but it certainly provides time and other opportunities for the LTTE to build up their depleted cadres.
Meanwhile, it also provides contrasting peace dividends in Colombo and the Eastern Province. In Colombo there is peace and tranquillity while in the east as the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) report said children are hiding in the scrub jungles around the Batticaloa Lagoon to escape from LTTE child hunters.
On Tuesday, Nobel Peace Prize winner, winner of the Martin Luther King Peace award, John Hume, who had last week been accorded the Gandhi Peace Prize, in his address to the INPACT at Trans Asia hotel stressed that a change in the mindset of both parties to a conflict was an essential requirement for successfully negotiating a peace. Are we now seeing a change in the mindset of the ruling government party on the North East conflict in their attempts to achieve peace? In 1994 too we perceived a change in the mindset of President Kumaratunga and the then government when they agreed to negotiate with the flag of Eelam on the negotiating table. Unfortunately such a change in the mindsets of Velupillai Prabakaran and his negotiators was not apparent. While the UNPs mindset about the LTTE appears to be changing now do we see any reciprocal changes in the other side?
The man who had played a key role in the settlement of the Northern Ireland problem cited the European Union as the best example in changing of mindsets in bringing about peace. He had stood on the bridge connecting the French town of Strasbourg and the German town of Kehel and reflected that if fifty years ago he thought that such peaceful co- existence was possible in Europe, he would have been sent to a psychiatrist.
After his speech, over cocktails, some Sri Lankans wondered whether such European co-habitation would have been possible had Hitler survived after World War II. Would a change in the mindset of Hitler which Prabakaran seem to have acquired been possible? Would Gandhi had been successful had he resisted a regime such as Nazi Germany with his Satyagraha as against the British, though an imperialist country extended the liberal laws of parliamentary democracy to their colonies?
The Nobel Prize laureate also did not deal much with foreign influence on the Northern Irish problem. For example he did not say whether the reaction of America to international terrorism after September 11 resulted in the sudden decision of the IRA to agree to decommission of arms. Did the mindset of the IRA change on sheer moral conviction or because their main sources of funding, the Irish Americans in the United States would no longer have been able to fund them?
At times, change in mindsets, particularly of intractable minds can be brought about by external agencies funding them.
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