Peace: How committed are the negotiators?

Agendas for peace, constitutional formulations, confidence building measures and the like are once again in the air with the announcement that talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the terrorist organisation, the LTTE are scheduled to begin in mid- September. Whatever the constitutional formulations that will be put forward or political strategies deployed, whether a lasting peace can be brought about will be dependent on the mind-set of the leaders and their followers.

Certainly every one has been crying out for peace ever since the ‘war’ commenced about 20 years ago. Throughout history, everywhere, the cry for peace has been heard as wars raged on. Peace has come about, except on rare occasions, when a victor emerged and the vanquished succumbed. In this instance neither side can claim to be victors nor admit to be the vanquished. Both sides are undoubtedly war-weary but are they willing to make compromises for the sake of peace?

Thus, the basic issue is whether this call for peace is a smokescreen to prepare for war to achieve the stated objectives or a genuine desire for peace by compromising on some idealistic objectives.

The LTTE’s immediate demand is for the establishment of an Interim Council for the North and East by which they mean a council, obviously under their control. The vital question that arises is whether the people of the North and East would like to go under an LTTE administration. The LTTE’s performance even after the Ceasefire Agreement do not merit placing the population of two districts comprising members of all three communities under an LTTE administration. No carte blanche can be given to the LTTE in these circumstances however great the desire for peace may be. It will be recalled that even under the Indo-Lanka Agreement a referendum had to be held to the final settlement over the North-East issue.

The unpopularity and desperation of the LTTE is evinced from their brutal and uncivilised acts of abduction of children to be trained as armed cadres, extortion of large sums of money from citizens in the name of ‘taxes’ in addition to smuggling of arms and other criminal activities. These certainly disqualify them to be the sole administrators of the two provinces.

The government as well as the earlier governments including that of the PA have declared their commitment for granting substantial devolution of power to the two provinces. Once the parliamentary sub committee that included all parties, known as the Mangala Moonasinghe committee reached consensus on all matters but could not agree on the issue of a separate Tamil homeland for the North and East. All such demands are likely to be placed on the negotiating table in Thailand, if the initial issues regarding the agenda of the conference could be agreed upon.

The question right now is whether the two parties could get down to discussing the ‘core issues’.

The so-called peace process undoubtedly will be a long and tiresome road to travel. But the outcome will solely depend on the sincerity of the chief players to achieve peace by adopting the spirit of compromise.

Gifting jumbos

The export of two baby elephants to Croatia which is reported to have been stopped by the Zoological Gardens brings into focus the issue of presenting baby elephants as gifts to foreign countries and organisations.

Undoubtedly a playful jumbo is a wonderful gift to the children of another country. But there are many other factors to be considered.

Firstly, elephants are a fast dwindling species and every effort should be made to conserve them in this country. Secondly, the security of these animals both in transit and after care in the host country too has to be gone into very carefully before such gifts are made. The trauma faced by such noble beasts in being transported in cages in the holds of giant airplanes and their relocation could well destroy the animals. Thirdly, the enormous quantity of vegetation needed for the jumbos, as they grow up in those countries have to be considered. Today, even in Sri Lanka, emaciated elephants being kept in some temples and particularly tourist hotels are heart- rending sights.

These animals are a part of our heritage and not the private property of politicians, bureaucrats or nilames to be gifted to foreign countries in accordance to their whims and fancies.

Mr. Rukman Senanayake, Minister for the Environment who is a great animal lover, particularly of the elephants, should tighten laws and regulations regarding the export of these animals as well as their deployment in tourist hotels.

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