|In Parliament on Thursday
Moragoda: We share credit with the President and Opp
At that point we entered into a period of trust building. Indeed this first year of the ceasefire has been about repairing some of the bridges that had been destroyed through decades of political mistakes by all political parties.
Then we had to deal with the issue of de-proscription. There were many of our detractors who did not want us to negotiate with the LTTE and saw our position as legitimising their case. But as the film maker, Robert Altman, once said "You dont change peoples ideas through rhetoric but by altering their way of looking at things. You will only get rid of war when you get rid of the pageantry surrounding it".
Ultimately the man firing the bullets is the man you have to stop; either militarily or through negotiations. Talking to a surrogate may be helpful but can never replace the real thing. A piece of legislation that can easily be reversed in one direction can be reversed again if the needs must. But for us to be able to talk to the LTTE the deproscription notice had to be placed.
That there-were issues that arose along the way is easy for all of us to see. Especially important in the early days of the ceasefire was to ensure that our armed forces were protected should an attack happen. Yet they handled the process with exemplary self control and dignity.
Again the detractors would have the people believe that we have somehow betrayed the armed forces. I think the opposite. In the air conditioned comfort of this Chamber it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like on the frontline. A few of our members here have sacrificed loved ones to this brutal war. Many more families from all walks of life have paid dearly for this war whilst the rest of us have looked on. To those families we owe a debt of gratitude which can only ever partly be repaid by stopping the fighting and bringing prosperity to their lives. To our soldiers, sailors, airmen and policemen & women we owe a similar debt which can only be repaid by providing an alternative which brings them above all peace, prosperity and happiness. Our detractors can try to fan the flames of ethnic and religious hatred but I believe our armed forces know better.
Then our detractors would have us believe that the Prime Minister and the Government wish to divide our country. A country driven apart as sure as if a border between two countries was already drawn. I invite these detractors to spend some time along the boundary between the so called cleared and the uncleared areas and they will soon realise that what this Government and our Prime Minister are trying to do is to re-unite the country not divide it.
Our detractors love to believe that they are being sold out in every direction, for them the pain and the anguish is not complete unless they can prove that there is no-one left to trust.
So it is when they attack the international community. We must accept that it was the previous government that began the peace process. It was the President who initially invited the Norwegians to become facilitators. With their record of helping in peace negotiations around the world and their reputation for a discrete and dignified approach to facilitation we were pleased to see them help the new government. In this context, we should not be ashamed or insecure to share the credit with the President and the Opposition. Our Prime Minister has always been prepared to do this. Despite the Norwegians non partisan approach and willingness to help, there are some in our community who seek to defile their name with every opportunity.
There have been times when we have had differences with the Norwegians. Similarly the LTTE have shown their displeasure at times. That both sides feel uncomfortable from time to time is a sign of true non-partisanship by the Norwegians. Likewise the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has had its ups and downs with both the Government and the LTTE. Criticism has often come from those who do not seek to inform themselves about the terms of reference under which the Norwegians and the monitoring mission works.
One such case is the controversy over the LTTE radio station. That the LTTE could have obtained the equipment by other means if they had wished is carefully ignored by our detractors. The fact that they already operated powerful clandestine radio and TV channels with international affiliates was also ignored. That they chose to use official Sri Lankan channels, hardly a separatists line, is ignored. Instead the detractors preferred to look at the minutiae rather than the substantive issues. The old saying that one cant see the wood for the trees is very apt in this case.
But the international support that the Prime Minister has built up over the past year has provided us with this golden opportunity to bring about peace.
Never before have we had the support of countries ranging from India, Japan, the European Union, Canada, Australia and the United States. Never before have we had so much goodwill which we are now in the process of translating into concrete economic assistance. Even East Asian countries like Thailand are playing their part in a most innovative manner.
The Oslo Donors Conference demonstrated exactly that. It was meant to send a political signal by the bi-lateral donors to the international donor community that Sri Lanka should be helped. The signal was sent loud and clear.
Many ask about India. The Government of Sri Lanka has always stated that India is the cornerstone of our foreign policy and a key plank in our economic policy. In future we hope Sri Lanka will become the gateway to South Asia through India in this modern world. It is in this context that under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, we have a very special relationship with India.
So special that like old friends we understand each other well and do not always have to spell out every initiative or action for the other to understand. In fact, I would venture to state that under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, we can afford to take India for granted as they can with us.
Some have viewed with suspicion the new relationship being built with the Japanese in recent times. There is nothing new about our friendship with Japan. Besides our long standing friendship and common cultural ties, Japan is our major donor of foreign aid, granting between US$ 200-300 million in assistance. Japan has now decided to become more engaged in Sri Lanka and we should all be happy and appreciative of this event.
In June we have the opportunity to build on the success of Oslo, when the bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors are brought together in Tokyo to see how Sri Lanka can be helped further. Japan in particular has a special interest in the economic reconstruction of Sri Lanka. This important conference wont just deal with the rebuilding of the battle scarred north and east but will also seek to help the poverty stricken south. By then we hope to finalise a poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) from the International Monetary Fund which will provide the initial support to underpin a macro economic framework for engaging international aid.
So, last year was about building a foundation to the Peace Process. It was about engaging the international community and building an international safety net. It was also about starting to build the trust that had been so lacking for the past twenty or more years. It was also about trying to do all this on a non-partisan basisa seemingly impossible task in our deeply divided society.
But there is much more to do. Sadly, we also have to build trust within our own government. The people made a momentous choice when they threw a PA President in to work with a UNF Government and Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister and I have held meetings with the President. On my part to brief her on the work in the negotiations and for the Prime Minister to discuss the issues and the many approaches available. We must hope that, rhetoric aside; this approach might build into a solid momentum that drives the peace process to a successful conclusion. For we must all realise that neither of the two major political parties in this country can solve this problem alone, regardless of who holds office at a given point of time.
Last year the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister began the work of transforming the military. We are pleased to have the support of many countries in this respect. International assistance can only help to build a better, more professional force to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st Century.
Meanwhile, we have much work to do to keep the momentum of the peace process moving forward. As a Government we shall have to be much better at communicating what we are doing and what the process entails. We have allowed our detractors to remain unanswered on too many issues. Regrettably on many of those issues the criticisms are easy and shallow whilst the explanations are deep and complex.
Take the question of the LTTE disarming. I cannot think of a single case where peace has been achieved through negotiations that either side disarmed before a final outcome was reached. The trust simply isnt sufficient at the moment and the battle scars have still to heal completely. Until these things happen neither side will want to drop their guard. To argue otherwise is naive in the extreme.
An example of this comes with the recent controversy of the High Security Zones. We wish to protect our soldiers in these sensitive areas until more trust has been built. But the LTTE wish to see the original residents return to their homes. Until the trust is built and we can find practical solutions to this problem then only time will resolve the issue.
Likewise, we have to see that the ceasefire agreement becomes inviolable. At the recent talks we set up mechanisms to work on this. The SLMM have done a commendable job of monitoring the issues but the time has come to see where the violations occur. Unfortunately, it appears that too many of them are caused by the LTTE . These especially include charges of child conscription, and extortion. The international community too has begun to put pressure on the LTTE in this regard. The Prime Ministers international safety net means that we no longer have to face these challenges alone. In any case unless these incidents come to a halt, the level of trust between the two sides will always be marred.
In January when the Governme nt and the LTTE met in Thailand, a committee was appointed which was made up of the Defence Secretary, the LTTE Eastern Commander and the head of the SLMM. Their task will be to study the monthly SLMM report and to identify the issues and report back to the plenary session.
Our biggest challenge is yet to come. For we have to manage expectations. The people want a permanent peace and settlement quickly. But many think we already have peace at hand and are prematurely euphoric but we must exercise caution and be realistic about the length of time it will take to achieve a lasting peace. It is unrealistic to expect major breakthroughs and good news at every session and every meeting in the Peace Process. We must expect setbacks from time to time Two steps forward and one step backwards. Our detractors should realize that for most complex problems, there appear to be simple solutions which are most likely unworkable. While a diversity of views is a prerequisite in democracy, inherent in the meaning of democracy is unity, not divisiveness, and that there are shared values and interests for the good of the entire nation first and foremost . Therefore, I would urge those who oppose the Peace Process to express their views with responsibility and maturity.
In other quarters it is felt that peace alone is not enough. Some say, "we cant eat peace" and they are right. Already their needs are greater. They want three square meals, jobs, education for their children, safe streets free from crime and good health. All these things come at a price. Without peace our economy will never bring us prosperity. But without prosperity we cannot be sure of peace.
Step by step we are resolving these issues. But the peace process is not the end. It is simply the means to an end. With peace we have to re-build our society, we have to banish the hatred and seek tolerance, we have to feed our people and bring them jobs. Most of all we have to bring equity and justice for all Sri Lankans within a responsible societ
As Ernest Friedrich, a German who was bold enough to stand against the tyranny of Hitler once said "I know not of enemies on this side or that, I know only of human beings".
For the sake of the people of Sri Lanka now is the time for this Chamber to unite in the common cause of peace.
Urging resettlement in the north and east Dharmalingam Siththarathan (PLOTE) said that normalcy for the people was only possible when there is trust between the government and LTTE. "This is not there today, so the people can have no normalcy," he said.
On the resettlement issue he said that there were many areas outside the High Security Zones (HSZ) where internally displaced could be resettled, and further hundreds of thousands who could return to the homeland. However, he added that no change was visible to encourage displaced to come and resettle. "Even those refugees abroad are urging the government to explain to foreign governments that it is difficult for them to return until suitable conditions are created," he said.
He also faulted the government for the lack of rehabilitation in the north and east despite the raising of funds. "The Sinhalese people think that all foreign funds are being directed to rehabilitation work in the north and east. But there is no evidence of this rehabilitation work, or change," he said.
He pointed out that for peace there should be no military camps in the north and east. "A permanent peace necessarily means this," he said.
He welcomed the LTTEs agreement to a federal system of government and declared that Sinhala fears of a separate state resulting from a federal system as articulated by the JVP were not valid.
He pointed out that the Tamil call for federalism is one that has historicity. "A federal solution will not break up a united country, in our case it will bring together a virtually divided country. The country needs such a solution for it to prosper," he said.
He recalled that the draft constitution presented by the President in 1997 contained provisions for regional autonomy. "The whole House must accept a federal system," he said.
On ceasefire violations he said that such breaches had to be anticipated.
Casting doubt about the sincerity of the LTTE, D. M. Jayaratne (PA-National List) warned that the constant goading of Sinhala and Muslim people by the LTTE would result in a severe backlash.
"There have been many sessions of talks, but there is real doubt as to whether there is real forward movement" he said.
He declared that governments honesty and sincerity in making a success of the process and its desire for peace was evident
"But the sincerity of the LTTE is very much in doubt among people in the south," he said.
He called for greater involvement of the people to ensure that what the people say is also taken into account.
"Today only the government and LTTE are involved in discussions. However in order to heed the voice of the people the negotiations must be broadbased to include Sinhalese and Muslims," he said.
He called for greater transparency in the process so that the people could understand for themselves that the effort is a sincere one. "The sincerity of the process must be evident if actions that follow" he said.
He welcomed the ceasefire on the grounds that it had granted reprieve to many, but cautioned that the conflict that would follow in the event of its failure would be far worse than what existed previously.
"There is nothing greater than saving someone from death. But one must be aware that the conflict that may follow in the event of failure, may be far greater in its intensity.
He heaped scorn on the notion of an LTTE system of justice, pointing out that if they had been in existence in the past it would have been known. "Today they have soldiers in remand and are trying them in their supposed courts. This is no more than terrorism. Can this be acceptable at a time we are talking peace?" he said.
He also commented on continuing child recruitment, which cast doubts whether the LTTE has a real desire for peace. "These children are recruited forcibly. And parents complain of the continuing recruitment," he said.
He also expressed concern about LTTE efforts to seek a forced legitimacy for itself through the collection of taxes and even establishment of Eelam banks ordering people to deposit their savings in these banks. He pointed out the continued LTTE onslaught on other political parties as evidence that it had no desire for a negotiated settlement.
He asserted that the recent hartal in the east by Muslims was evidence of the increasing dissension within the community because of the failure to address its concerns. "This will also be the case with the Sinhalese if their concerns are not met," he said.
He observed that previously the breathing space provided by the peace talks was used by the LTTE to regroup. "The continuing wrongdoings of the LTTE will give evidence to this view. It is up to the government to make clear to the LTTE that its actions will only invite a backlash from Sinhalese and Muslims," he said.
Asserting that the Muslim leaders had failed their people M. L. A. Athaullah (Minister of Highways) said that the constant reference to the plight of Muslims during the course of the debate evidenced this.
"Only a peace that is just to all can be permanent," he said.
Commenting on the continuing debate on the suitability or non-suitability of a federal system, he said that discussion was pointless as its introduction was only possible with assent of most parties in parliament.
He too warned of great destruction, and a virulent war after the lull of peace through a ceasefire. "Once the ceasefire ends it will be the Muslims who will be greatly affected. This will be both at hands of the LTTE and army, with each blaming the Muslims for helping the other," he said.
He asserted that for peace to be permanent all MPs had to accept the solution. "All sections must participate in the talks, even the JVP. Otherwise the solution will not be implementable," he said.
On the Muslim participation at the talks he said that it was now forgotten that the SLMC was created to liberate the Muslims. He recalled that Rauf Hakeem continuously failed to ensure the interests of the Muslims. "Our call for the Muslims to participate in the talks as a separate group in the peace talks," he said.
He pointed out that even on the issue of rehabilitation the Muslims were cheated and the frustration of the community was well demonstrated at a hartal held recently.
He warned that even as the Tamil youth took up arms when they lost faith in the leadership, Muslim youth too could take this path.
Declaring that the Oslo conference was one that was most significant in the confidence expressed by the international community in the peace process R. Sampanthan (TNA-Trincomalee District) said that this had further strengthened the negotiations.
On child conscription by LTTE he said that the party was opposed to it and had raised it with the LTTE leadership at discussions in the Wanni and Kilinochchi. "We have made clear our position that we are not happy about conscription, and the LTTE in turn has given us an assurance that no one under 18 years would be recruited. It has also been explained to us by the leadership that it is some cadres in some areas who had failed to follow the order. We were promised that they would be asked to do so," he said.
He also urged patience pointing out that a purely militaristic organisation cannot transform itself into a political organisation overnight.
"You cant expect the LTTE to transform from a ruthless militaristic organisation to a peaceful political organisation overnight," he said.
He poured scorn on the concern expressed by opposition MPs on child recruitment. "Where was the JVPs concern when the children in Wanni were aerially bombarded and suffered malnutrition?" he asked.
On continued collection of funds be declared that the LTTE no longer took money from Sinhalese and Muslims. "They however take money from certain sections of the Tamil population. This is because their funds are frozen and the organisation needs to maintain itself," he said.
He denied that this was a preparation for war, but only "the LTTEs desire to keep its gun powder dry".
He spoke of the need to address Muslim concerns adequately and fully. "We told the LTTE this," he said.
He however declared the partys opposition to a referendum in the north east to determine its merger.
"This is the historical habitation of the Tamils and was so recognised in the Indo-Lanka agreement," he said.
He urged the PA to ensure that the President keeps to her pledge to not dissolve Parliament even after the lapse of an year if the government enjoyed majority support.
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