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Only Gotabhaya considered a military victory was possible – Erik Solheim

By Colombo Telegraph – “No one particular, could be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa, but he’s the only particular person I can mention who considered a military victory was achievable. I was quite hard to say extremely close to Indian intelligence and an tremendous sum of time all through this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was achievable until mid 2008.

Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, state may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.”Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim said last week

“Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.” Minster of the Environment and international Development Erik Solheim further said.

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.

Eric Solheim made this remarks last week in Oslo seminar followed by the launch of the evaluation report of the Norwegian Peace effort in Sri Lanka. Theevaluation has been performed by CMI in Bergen and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and deals with the Norwegian peace effort in Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2009.

Following is the full text of the speech made by Erik Solheim

Let me start by thanking Mr.Gunnar and his team for a very valuable and interesting report.  I’ve not been able to study everything at this stage, we will go through it, all the big and small parts…the big and small issues which are covered by the report and see to what extent I can inform and to see what I can do to assist Sri Lanka in the future and more importantly how this can help Norwegian efforts in other peace processes.

Norway is involved in one way or other in may be 20 peace processes in world and very few of them, at the moment, not as a main actor as in Sri Lanka, but in supporting the parties and supporting other international actors in bringing peace so it’s very valuable to look into all these experiences which are experience, this may be the first time, certainly, it isn’t normal, that one involved in the peace process is commissioning a report in to all the positive and negatives of what happened.

Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process 

I broadly agree with most comments made and had one major reservation and let me start with that. I think indeed that Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process when it was clear to everyone that the government of Sri Lanka wanted a final military victory.

Every one knew that, was no doubt in Washington, or Beijing, or Colombo or Vanni about that. No one was in doubt of that. Indeed at this point we should have withdrawn. I think it is extreme arrogant why, because the Tamil Tigers asked us to continue, the government of Sri Lanka at least, in some extent, asked us to continue. A complete civil society and all the peace groups in Sri Lanka asked us to continue. The United States of America asked us to continue. India asked us to continue. The European Union asked us to continue. Neither I nor Vidar Helgesen, should sit in Oslo and make the decision that when everyone else in the world asked Norway to do best under the most difficult circumstances, even when its war, even so many people are killed, we should try to withdraw.

. If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wickramasinghe would have been elected the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.

I cannot disagree, more. I think it’s very arrogant because it’s putting Norway far above everything else. It’s about our reputation, not about what we’re asked to do.  All those who are suffering from this war. Except for that major reservation, I agree a lot about what has been presented by Gunar hear.

If there is another, not major reservation, it is the following. We should be very cautious with determinism believing that the outcome of Sri Lankan events had to be what it actually was. Richard Armitage is at the first floor hear, I think he and myself agreed that the American Independence war by George Washington would have taken a completely different turn if George Washington had be hanged as a terrorist and the UK would have gone over at least 50 more years.

It was so close to a southern separation during the civil war in America in the 1860’s and was not far away. Very close. You can just make a few changes in a few of the battles or moving the election of 1860 away from the fall to the spring and the outcome would have been completely different.

If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005

This occurs in most important events in Earth’s history and the tendency by researchers by what actually is the end, had to be the end, I take a reservation with. Let’s mention a few of the “ifs” in the peace process of Sri Lanka. If Mr.Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wikremesinghe would have been elected as the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.

 

If Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Balsinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.

If Mr. Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Mr. Balasinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.

Prior to that they were quite clever both in the political and military field in the 3 years after Blasingam’s death, it was not one single meaningful political or military initiative from the Tamil Tigers.

Not one and there is no other way of explaining that influence of Balasingham’s disappear and Pirapaharan was alone to make decisions. So to say. If  Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible,  it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .

If Chandrika Kumaratunga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new set up in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Tigers assisted the army. The army assisted Tamils. Was really a new beginning but it was drawn out, drawn out, the momentum was lost and basically nothing happened.

If we had been able to achieve a major change or development here I think everything would have been very different. Not necessarily, exactly what we had hoped for but it would have been very different.  And I can continue with a number of other such if, So I think we have to judge historical events on the basis of the available information at that time, not when we know what happened. But that’s hard when we don’t know exactly what happened because what happened was not necessarily what had to happen. Then, let me add one or two other aspects. No one believed there was a military victory possible.

Gothabaya Rajapaksa the only exception

No one. May be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa but he’s the only person I can mention who thought a military victory was possible.

No one in Colombo thought it was possible, I was very hard to say very close to Indian intelligence and an enormous amount of time throughout this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was possible until mid 2008. Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, still may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.

If Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible, it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .

Before that no one thought it was possible, the United States thought it was impossible, USA, India and Colombo thought it was impossible so again complete change from what we all based the peace process on until that point.

Then coming to what can be learned. Because there are a number of these issues which are reflected in the report and also by  Gunnar. Obviously have to be patient, that’s very obvious part of the peace process starting with the belief that this can be resolved in a few months time.

The Indians told us, please be patient, if you cannot be patient go away, get out of the way you will only complicate matters. This will take a decade at the minimum. So we learned to be patient and you need patience in any peace process.

Then you need to get the international context right, as was covered by Mr.Gunnar may be at the end the government won a military victory because it much better understood the international situation and tiger leadership. Mr.Rajapaksa understood it was basically possible to build up a coalition of China, Pakistan, Iran, and a number of new actors in the Sri Lankan context to get on one hand, military support from these new actors but on the other hand also using these new actors to put pressure on old actors in the sense that it would be very much more relaxing to see China coming in a more major way in Sri Lanka.

That was very clever international diplomacy by Rajapaksa out fuling that way the Tigers in … that way… so in the international context it’s very essential. Other issues the inclusiveness. Have to say that we were fighting throughout to particularly include the Muslim community in Sri Lanka in a much broader way in the peace process and to every one else that was not easy mainly because the Tamil Tigers were very reluctant to see a separate Muslim dimension to the struggle, but very very important in all peace processes to be as inclusive as possible.

The three main issues in my perspective in the peace process 

Then I would come to the three main issues in my perspective in the peace process which we have to contemplate for future situations. Number one, the peace priority list is weather are there other ways to influence the Tamil Tigers leadership in a more effective way than we did. You may please recall Norway was the only access to Pirapakran. background, I met Pirapakaran may be ten times and absolutely no tiger in

If Chandrika Kumaranathuga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new setup in Sri Lanka.

that background, none. During the peace process, except for Norwegians, Mr.Krish Paten from EU meet him onece, and Akashai from Japan, may be once, or twice, except for that it was just Norwegians. Mr.Lars combined thirty hours with during this peace process. He spoke only Tamil and my Tamil is limited so it was a relatively limited time. I think it was completely wrong …. That other actors did not want to speak to him unless he behaved well. The more people that need to speak to Pirapakaran the better.

The government would have been reluctant to that because that would have been a recognition of  his role that I think the more the LTTE would have been opened up, the moel actors that would have been able to meet in a international community mole the more likely a success would have been.
That’s right what Gunnar said, when Balasingham negotiated to do so call Oslo declaration which they said LTTE will explore Federalism where Milinda and myself who wrote that document here in Oslo Balasingham accepted it and took it to Pirapakaran, he refused it. It was not public at that time but it is very clear he refused it. Because he was realizing to federalism. But still have been ……. or influence in LTTE Leadership. In reality that Mr.Pirapakaran, more that is the most, that is the number one crucial issue. Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.

Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord

He is ……. in a war load. May be studying the war lords, chins history in the early part of the …. the best parallel to study Pirapakaran, Balasingham hinted. Its not my idea. if that the case more have been done to open up their ice, their understanding of the world and should be have done that more on that matter I thing that was completely wrong that USA, Europe and anyone else ask me please you behave well very long period of time we will talk to you. So we should have talked to them all the time as much as possible 24 hours if possible. This is the number one status issues.

It may, People may thing that up on this from world assistant,  stutterers, tactical experience, it may seen as very personal oriented but the reality was Pirapakaran was the LTTE, without Pirapakaran LTTE will have existed and all major decisions whatever type will be made by Pirapakaran. No one else. he will of course speak with some of the military leaders definitely consulting with Balasingham but ultimately he will make decisions and it was very hard, I never heard any Tamils giving and wanted advice to Mr.Pirapakaran I thing that would be very difficult to any Tamils to knock at door to going to Pirapakaran and say that you are on a wrong path you shouldn’t do this and that.Only person should do that Balasingham. Because he was 10 years senior.

Second issue very much covered by Gunnar. There are two parties in Colombo. UNP and SLFP they had a long long history of not working together. During most of the peace process Chandraka was the President Ranil Wikremesinghe was the Prime Minister and they were not speaking … and they were both believing that they are whatever they do possible to do in their my or in their situations.

. Blasingham told that please understand Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.

Should have been done more on that regards. We felt that it was outside Norway mandate. We felt other mandate was to negotiate that those in power in Colombo where ever they are and the Tamil tigers and that intervening on that would be intervening mean that domestic affairs in State of Sri Lanka.

Mr.Fox that UK’s Minister of Defence, he just left his post, made so called FOX agreement in late 1990s you should cover that. There was lots of efforts that Indian and others to bring by two parties together but should have been Norway should have forced to …. may be we should have done that more to ask both parties to do like India and UN to do it, would have been very very difficult.  Very critical issue I do not know what extend discuss it the peace agreement was in the beginning before the cease fire agreement should more effort have been done bring Chandrika into that. Because that was done right after Ranil Wikremesighe made political victory he was on the political assurance, very strong and very popular at that point. Chandrika was as you said sidelined.

Should more have been done to bring Chandrika in to that agreement 

That’s true, should more have been done to bring her in to that agreement at the beginning, mover mental that has been lost but it is a critical issue of course if there has been a two party agreement in Colombo with their LTTE that would have made enormous different that’s very clear. But I think that was outside to Norway to archive it. May be we should have been done more to try to convince others to act will be lots, possibly has been done more. The last issue like to bring that also coved the issue of communication. Its true that Norway became very unpopular at least that peace process has lasted long partially in …… Nationalists Sinhala groups, that’s very clear. I thing that main reason for that with optics whenever someone saw Mr.Pirapakaran or LTTE …. to Norwegians because no one else going there, so other, I will be there or Ambassador or Johan or someone else, I mean if Pirapakaran or Balasingham or Tamilselvan, whether it was on TV normally the Norwegian with his side, it gave important to Sri Lankans that Norway was very close to LTTE. Since no one else LTTE did this. This was optical reason was why this became an issue.. but still we should have discussed, may be better media strategy. However of course, that party not wanted Norway to have a high profile. they wanted to be a process between that LTTE and the government they wanted us to make comments particularly when they have agreed some things but did not want Norway to be seen as speaking behalf of its self… defending its own role on this on media and that.. that clearly told that was what the parties want to see and still I mean is an issue, definitely need more consideration whether it should have play that or done more on this. Other issue in commutation is their one group. I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo in Sri Lanka and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others, the very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka. We were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumaratunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy.  So  this not our idea, she was telling not to do it,. We wanted to do, but told not to do.. …… itself and don’t interview in this … leave that to us. At least to that inside today we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy because of their loyalist on the Sinhala side was so so important. so these are some of the issues for discussion. There are many big and small at the end two big one that finding of the issues of the peace process was should more have been done to reach out to Pirapakaran to get him at end to accept a federal states. that other was should more have been done bring together UNP and SLFP, Ranil and Chandrika, if we have been able to do very different or one or other this too, that would have been a completely different process these are the two essential questions.

 If you want to receive support from USA will you kill any USA president? 

I don’t think that war on terror was a main problem here, On one hand LTTE made enormous mistakes, the reason why the war on terror became so important in Sri Lanka was that LTTE made high profile assassinations against Sri Lankan politicians, it gave them nothing on any political or military point of view. Why in hell killing Rajiv Gandhi. Animus blander, if you want to receive support from USA, will you kill any US president? India was the main source of support to Tamil Tigers, why then killed? Rajiv Gandhi was a outstanding Indian Prime Minister.This was animus mistake, Whenever Pirapakaran told us stop killing, he keep (strikes) his words, that’s more than I can say that Sri Lankan Sinhala politician,

I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others. The very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka, we were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumarathunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy

Pirapakan always did. One example right after Mahinda elected president, LTTE started huge number of killing against Sri Lankan army soldiers then we went to Pirapakaran he promised to stop it. He stopped it. There was no killing by LTTE then the Government started killing different Tamils. Then too LTTE responded. Government that point insisting the killing. LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point. They started the peace process at the peak of power. LTTE was ever powerful at 2000 and 2001.

LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point

LTTE was too close to capture Jaffna peninsula, LTTE distorted Bandaranayaka airport in Colombo, bringing the economics of Sri Lankan state to zero. There was a peak of the power they started peace process, We Norway had good relation with Government in Washington and Norway embassy in Oslo. Their is not one critical remarks what so ever on WikiLeaks on Norwegian role on peace process. There USA cannot do it, will not do it, its very common Norway doing it. We have been …… bringing ….. killing by Sri Lankan state, I will give you ample of examples, MP. Pararajasingham good friend of mine was killed in Xmas day in a Christian church, Obviously this was by Sri Lankan state.One of the main famous Editor in Colombo Lasantha Wickaramatunga, another friend of us through peace process known very well killed by state of Sri Lanka.

Absolutely there is no doubt about that, that should be condemned and who was responsible for this crime should be brought to courts.

It was absolutely right to regret the ban of LTTE the point of views of Norway, how could you play as a mediator if band one organization you should talk to that group is impossible, I thing that banning the LTTE is not a good idea, because I … to that …..that much …. that overwhelmed by LTTE to political come forward bringing them out in the light discussing with them and trying to convince top leadership that has to informs them self.That is the reason why took prevalence that in Europe very clear on so many occasion we not able to stop this kind of terrorist killing that provoke the EU.

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years

Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest, part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.

I still believe that this peace process should have taken a different cost… so I don’t think too high expectation may be from the beginning much more easy, but it was not right to do it, Expectations has gone very differently I thing it was right.

India though out had VETO power over the peace process, Milinda and myself went to Delhil many time but I don’t know how many times has been at the airport and New Delhi meetings whith Indian Intelligence and others, there was no major steps on the peace process what so ever taken without informing India same times they tacis excess may have disagreed India was throughout Informed.

That was very simple, they want that view, India for most important friend in Sri Lanka. USA is important also, for USA India and Sri Lanka is a co-Interest.

USA never ever realize their relationship with India, for example for Sri Lanka. If India on board, ultimately USA basically flow. Even what nation’s …… to SLMM they give a list of the national they will aspect we will respect from that.

Watch full video;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MtYY9QNrrIU

Categories
Foreign Affairs

Lessons For Sri Lanka: Pakistani Voters Snub Religious Extremists

I want to be the rainbow 
From the inside out
To show all my colours
Colours that define me
Colours that make me whole
But it’s so hard
For I wear many masks
The truth sets me free 

Miriam WandiaKaloki – from her poem  ‘Masks’ in Human Rights and Culture  (AHRC) Vol 4 Issue 13

Pakistan went to the polls a couple of weeks ago. Though the full results are still not known, it is clear that Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League has won sufficient National Assembly seats to be able to form a stable government in Islamabad. His party will also be able to form a government in Punjab Province. The incumbent Pakistan People’s Party dominated by the late Benazir Bhutto’s family was badly beaten at the election to the National Assembly but will continue to rule the Province of Sindh.  Pakistan’s cricket legend Imran Khan’s Movement for Justice (PTI) took control of Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa (former North West Frontier Province) and had an improved result from previous National Assembly e3lection. In the fourth Province of Balochistan, a regional party seems likely to control the majority of seats. Significantly, to ensure a fairer poll, the Election Commission conducted the National Assembly and all the Provincial Assembly polls on the same day.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa waves during a photo opportunity with high-ranking military officials after unveiling a monument for fallen Sri Lankan soldiers in the town of Puthukkudiriruppu

Mr. President, victory over whom?

What was noteworthy about this election was that it was the first time since Independence in 1948, that an elected government was allowed to complete its term in office. In all previous instances, no elected government was allowed to complete its term of office. It was always interrupted by a military coup. So 2013 will be momentous in Pakistan’s political history in that one elected government is about to be inaugurated in office to succeed another following a democratic election, Nawaz Sharif who seems set to take over as Prime Minister was earlier removed from office 1n 1999 in a military coup led by General  Musharaff. Ironically. in 2013 when Nawaz Shariff is installed as Prime Minister, Musharaff will be serving his time in jail, following a Supreme Court order delivered before Nawaz Sharif’s election.

This is the third time Sharif is to serve office in Pakistan as Prime Minister. David Blair and Rob Crilly writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph have stated that Sharif’s first term between 1990 and 1993 ended in ignominy when he was sacked for corruption; he was a steel magnate tainted by many allegations of dodgy dealings. During his second term, between 1997 and 1999, he re-wrote the Constitution, made laws making it obligatory for MPs to vote for the party line, and sent mobs to threaten the Supreme Court Judges. Along the way, he armed the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb, and blundered into an undeclared war with India – the Kargil affair in 1999 when he sent Pakistani troops deep into Indian-held territory. But he was not able to rein in the powerful Army who sent him off to Saudi Arabia. The Press described his government at that time as ‘one of the most inept in Pakistan’s history’.

Time can change political  leaders

But time changes men and women and also popular sentiment about their political lesders. Most Pakistan voters felt that during his decade long absence from the Pakistani political scene, Sharif had matured a lot and is now committed to ‘managing the economy and pursuing political reconciliation both domestically and in external relations. The Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading daily newspapers wrote that Sharif’s election was a hugely important moment in Pakistani history. Sharif fought a campaign ‘to be proud of’. Though relentlessly attacked from all sides, he ‘resolutely kept his focus on what needs to be done to solve grave national issues’, the dire economy, crippling power shortages and endemic tax evasion. Most Pakistan voters seem to have believed him to be sincere. Though he had courted the Taliban in his previous terms, the voters thought he was best poised to tackle the Taliban. He has plans to start immediate talks with ‘all sides’, including the Army and the Taliban to end the violence. He is also keen to mend fences with India with whom there has been no durable peace since partition in 1947. He has already invited India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in as Prime Minister. He probably knows that political reconciliation at home and with the neighbours will not be easy. While attempting reconciliation, he will have to be constantly looking over his shoulders at both the powerful Army as well as at the equally powerful insurgent Taliban movement. But he is now politically more mature to handle this.

The election that Sharif brought Sharif to power was not without controversy. The Taliban engaged in widespread violence and intimidation and did not allow all the candidates to campaign freely. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan however seemed to have been spared the wrath of the Taliban and seemed to have been allowed to attend and address election rallies. Not so lucky was the Pakistan People’s Party. Bilawal Bhutto Zardar, the young son of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the current Chairman of the PPP, had to confine himself to speaking through video messages from his exile in Dubai. Imran Khan has referred to intimidation of many of his supporters that prevented them from going to the polling booths to exercise their franchise. Most of the acts of violence and intimidation were by the religious extremists, including the Taliban. But the Pakistani voter defied these extremists to go to the polling both. The turn-out at this election was over 60%, the highest ever in Pakistan’s turbulent electoral history. Imran Khan has said that his party intends to challenge the poll results because of the widespread intimidation. But it unlikely, given the record turn-out of voters, the margins of victory and the regional trend in voting which resulted in victories for all parties at the provincial assembly elections, that there was massive intimidation and/or vote-rigging  Sharif has told Imran Khan to show the ‘sportsman’s spirit’ by accepting the results!

Imran Khan himself is now recovering in hospital from a fracture in his spine caused by a fall from an election platform a few days before the election. There was, of course, no suggestion, that the fall was caused by any act of sabotage. But one of Imrqn Khan’s leading supporters was shot dead two days after the election in what was clearly a political assassination. Kahn has accused one of the parties of religious extremism as being responsible for this killing. The problem with Pakistan is that it was founded on the basis of religion. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, their independence leader, who initially stoked the flames of communalism, died soon after independence from British rule. Had he lived, he may have been able to contain religious extremism as he was by nature a liberal though ambitious politician. Pakistan, unlike India, did not have outstanding liberal visionaries like Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Humayun Kabir to direct the energies of a post-independence people in the path of religious and linguistic harmony.

Lessons for Sri Lanka

The first transition from one democratically elected government to another in Pakistan’s political history has lessons for Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court of Pakistan played an important role in clipping the wings of the powerful Army when the Army asserted themselves to interfere with democratic governance. The Supreme Court was also held he powerful President accountable for maintaining the rule of law. Pakistan is a partially failed state with the economy in a crisis state. There are twenty-hour black-outs which deal a crippling blow to industry. Tax evasion is a huge problem with the middle and working classes having to bear the brunt of falling resources for development work. The Army had enjoyed too much power that it tended to interfere in civilian affairs with disastrous results. Violence has reached levels when even Test playing cricketing countries avoid Pakistan as a venue for their matches. Corruption is becoming endemic. These problems, which the new Sharif government is now required to tackle. will require a change in the culture  of a people. They have for over sixty years been plagued by military coups and corrupt politicians. It will need enormous courage and a singular vision on the part of the Nawaz Sharif government to change all this. Having been away from the political scene for over a decade, he comes in as a new broom with the vision and the  capacity to bring about the changes that are necessary, despite his previous government being considered inept. Only time will tell if he can deliver. He was elected because the voter believed that he could do so, that he had shed his previous image as another run-of the mill Pakistani politician,

The problems the Pakistani people now face are common to the problems that we in Sri Lanka have to contend with. As in Pakistan, they have been caused primarily by corrupt and inept politicians, who used religious and linguistic extremists and/or used the language of extremism to cover up their own corruptness and ineptness. There are increasing signs that the voters in Sri Lanka are increasingly losing patience with those promote religious, linguistic or ethnic hatred. Two weeks ago, the government observed ‘Victory Day’, an annual event to celebrate the crushing of the northern insurgency. They were bypassing the LLRC recommendation that instead of this display of triumphalism, National Day 4th February include a separate event to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the conflict and to commit ourselves to peaceful future. The government appointed LLRC also wanted the practice of singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, to the same melody, to be continued and supported. These two eminently suitable and easily implementable recommendations have been, obviously deliberately, ignored.

Dr Rajasingham Narendran, who can hardly be accused, even remotely, of being an LTTE fellow traveler, and who is regularly quoted by the state media, has written a detailed critique of the triumphalist speech of President Mahinda Rajapakse at the recent ‘Victory Day’ speech. One hopes that the Island will be bold enough to publish the full critique. But this column wishes to quote a few samples from it. Words in bold are from Rajapakse’s speech:

“Today we have the fourth opportunity to celebrate with dignity the great victory of our Motherland.”

Mr. President, victory over whom?   I raise this question in terms of the word ‘Conquered’ used in a war memorial in Mullaitivu.  Was it a victory over the LTTE or the Tamils?  Motherland!  Whose?  I did not see any opposition figures in the podium?  There were also no representatives of the Tamils, who were liberated by the armed forces, on the podium. I also did not see any Hindu priests, Christian padres or Muslim Moulavis on the podium, except for a handful of Buddhist monks.  The absence of Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the army from the front, at this function and his name and role not being even mentioned were glaring omissions that portrayed the smallness this great country is being reduced to.

Further, the language in the inscription on the war memorial at which flowers were laid was only in Sinhalese. Why?  What does this imply in terms of the word ‘Motherland’ used by you? Is Tamil not the language of the ‘Other’ children of ‘Mother Lanka’?   Why were these inscriptions not also in Tamil- an official language and English- a link language? What is the message this government is conveying?

“We know that those who had ceasefire agreements that betrayed the country to the Tigers are making every effort to make us forget the heroism of this nation.”

This is a very unfair and inaccurate statement.  It is the last ceasefire agreement signed with Norwegian mediation that exposed the LTTE for what it was to the Tamils and helped weaken it from within.  It was an important prelude to what the last war achieved.

“Similarly, this era should go down in history as one that carried out a major transformation to prevent the occurrence of war again.”

What sort of major transformation?  Are increased militarization and surveillance the only answers? Should not the political needs, concerns and fears of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims be addressed in a more Statesman-like manner? Isn’t it important to remember that each one of us is a child of Mother Lanka and the weaker in political terms, need special care from your government, which at the moment is in charge of affairs here.”

Why were warnings against commemorating the war-dead among the Tamils, issued by the military and not the police?  Why has not the government organized official events to commemorate all the  riot/war / insurgency dead in this country?  If the government can publicly celebrate victory, why can’t the Tamils publicly commemorate the innocent victims of war?

Why should  almost 7000 acres of land that was commandeered for reasons of war  25 years back from their owners, be not returned to the rightful owners, four years after the war ended?  What is the moral justification for acquiring these lands?  Will this help with reconciliation or win the hearts and minds of the Tamils?  How will these acquisitions prevent the recurrence of war?   Do you understand that the Tamils will not want a war in their midst for the next thousand years?   You have to know what the Tamils think, better and trust their good sense. They have learned more lessons the hard way than you and your government have learned.

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Make All Men and women Component Of War Commemoration

Jehan Perera – colombo telegraph

Jehan Perera

The government’s decision to celebrate May 19 as a day of victory and the country’s second Independence is another one of its actions that has polarised the Sri Lankan people.  Whether by accident or design, it is ironic that through its continuing actions the government that reunified the territory of the country should also be the one that fosters the divisions between the people.  I was in Mannar on that day that marked a watershed in the modern history of the country, and saw that the Sri Lankan people were divided in their attitudes.  There was no collective remembrance of loss, but a reinforcement of the separation that has overshadowed the post-Independence era.

While the government was celebrating with military march pasts and air and sea shows in Colombo, in Mannar there was real action that was reminiscent of what happened during the war.  A group of people who had gathered to commemorate those who died in the last battle, were prevented from doing so by armed military personnel and police with guns pointing.  It is reported that 15 of them were arrested and only released on bail late at night.   Earlier the state media had reported that such commemorative meetings were illegal and warned anyone commemorating the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was liable to be arrested.

However, the Tamil political parties in the opposition said they staged the remembrance for those who died in the final battle.  This was where the top LTTE leadership were killed.  In this charged context, the decision of the Catholic Church in Mannar to commemorate all victims of the war was pragmatic.  Whenever Tamils have tried to commemorate the death of their loved ones, the government has taken steps to prevent this.  The military in particular is sensitive to commemorations of the LTTE being held in the guise of commemorating the civilians who lost their lives.  However, the reality is that the two groups of LTTE and civilians were often mixed.  Especially in the last days  of the war, the LTTE forcibly recruited  children, some as young as 12, and this included the children of Mannar.

Contrasting Realities

Mannar is the only one of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts that has a Catholic majority.  With its unique cultural attributes, it is a celebration of the country’s cultural and religious diversity which must not be made into a weakness when it is a strength.  Unlike the Tamil political parties who had called on the people to commemorate the war dead amongst the Tamil population, the Bishop of Mannar requested the clergy in the area to commemorate all victims of the war, and not just those who were Tamil.  By implication, this would have included those of all three ethnic groups, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and also the fighting personnel on the two sides, the government and LTTE. It is a testament to the strength of Sri Lanka’s diversity, that it was a minority group that decided to commemorate all who lost their lives as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President.

This year’s victory celebration by the government was focused on the valour of the armed forces and the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapakse viewed the military parade and pledged that there will be no room for those who tried to divide the country. He said, “We will not allow a single inch of the land that you won by the sacrifice of your life to be taken away.”  The past fortnight saw a build up in the mass media to remind the people of those days of blood and bombs and how it all has ended.  The contrast with the peaceful situation of the present will continue to bring in the votes of a grateful nation.

But the unfortunate reality is that the support of the Sinhalese majority for the war victory and the government’s celebrations has not been matched by any kind of equivalent support from the Tamil minority.  They too have been beneficiaries of the peaceful situation that has followed the end of the war.  They are now safe from the ravages of child recruitment and terror tactics that the LTTE brought to bear upon them.  But they also wish to mourn their loved ones who are no more with them, to find out what happened to them, and also to regain their dream of enjoying equal rights in which they also have the right to decide.  These are all matters on which the government appointed LLRC has made recommendations on but are not being followed by the government.

Way Forward

Four years after the war’s end the political solution that the leaders of government promised during the time of the war has yet to materialize.  The LTTE has been replaced by the Sri Lankan military who govern them in conjunction with the civilian administration. The Northern Province, where the first gunshots of the war were fired and where the last of the rebel fighters fell, has still to enjoy the right of elected provincial governance even to as limited an extent as the other eight provinces do.   A government ally has filed action in the Supreme Court calling on it to abolish the system of devolution of power for the entire country.  In this context, there is increasing skepticism whether the promised Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year will actually take place.

The civil war ended in 2009 but four years later the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation and to heal the wounds of war.  At the present time it also appears that Sri Lanka is moving backwards, and not forwards, in terms of securing the Rule of Law.  The impeachment of the Chief Justice process eroded the rule of law and usurped the pre-eminence of the Supreme Court in its role of interpreting the constitution.  This has impacted negatively on the rule of law and by extension the protection of human rights and political accountability.  There is also the rise of inter-religious tensions fanned by government allies.   A new dimension of inter-communal unrest is the rise of Buddhist extremism that has targeted the Muslim community and taken on an open and frontal confrontational approach.

Sri Lanka could have been a very different country today.  There is a need to recognize that although the civil war ended in 2009 the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation through an inclusive process of political negotiations and a sincere effort to heal the wounds of war.  If the recommendations of the LLRC appointed by the President had been followed, the government could have changed course last year.  Government leaders would have ceased to further engage in ethnic triumphalism and instead focused on commemorating all victims who lost their lives in the senseless conflict.  They could have utilized the occasion of May 19 to resolve that never again would such bloodletting be permitted to take place.  This would have been a commemoration that all Sri Lankans, respecting multi ethnicity, equal rights, and the safety and dignity of all, could have taken part in as a united Sri Lankan nation.

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Feasible Part Of The Senior Sri Lankans In Resurrecting Democracy And Justice

prof_Laksiri_fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Seniors in different societies play different roles. Some years back when I first came across the name (Japan) Silver Volunteers (JSV), I wondered which ‘Silva’ had founded that organization in Japan. No, I was mistaken hearing the indistinct pronunciation. It was not Silva but Silver to mean, in our parlance, ‘grey haired’ generation. These JSV people even go overseas for voluntary work and had come to Sri Lanka as well. This generation in Japan exceeds 20 per cent of the population. In Sri Lanka this group is reaching 10 per cent, to mean the generation of over 60s.

What I am trying to say does not necessarily depend on the size of the group, but their experience, knowledge and unique capacity as seniors. In Australia, National Seniors Australia is a large non-profit making organization working for the welfare and recreation of the seniors. I am not even thinking of that kind of an organization. In Belgium, some seniors are running a hidden-camera TV comedy called ‘Benidorm Bastards’ which is of course humorous and also critical of hypocrisy in society. During the Vietnam War some seniors in the US took to the streets and protested alongside the young against that despicable war. In recent times, again the American seniors are voicing their protest against the insufficient Medicare system among other issues.

There were few senior citizens’ organizations in Sri Lanka few years back but except for one or two, others were not involved in social or political issues. Seniors today are also a sector most hit by the current inflation, financial scams, electricity rate hike without any direct concessions given on the part of the government, unlike in many other countries under similar circumstances. They are a sector most neglected.

However, more than the role of such organizations or such issues, what I am proposing here is a role for the seniors who were prominent in public life in the past, either in the public or the private sector as administrators, professionals, academics or even politicians, in defending the country’s diminishing international profile by fighting against violence, corruption and communalism and standing for democracy and justice. This would be a great service for defending the country’s deteriorating democracy, human rights and justice and fairness to all individuals and communities. If someone asks me if I am referring to the elite, yes, I am referring to them without neglecting some of the seniors coming from the working class or the trade union movement.

Seniors undoubtedly can play a major role in resurrecting democracy and on the issues of justice. They were born before or just after the independence (1948) in an atmosphere of much hope and promise for the country’s progress and development. They have experienced the best traditions of this country either in liberal or left politics within all communities; the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims. They entertained differences of opinion, at times heated ones, and knew how to resolve them through dialogue and negotiations. They have had much exposure to the international trends during the Vietnam War, the student’s movements in the 1960s, the collapse of communism and debates on colonialism or the non-aligned movement. Their views by and large are not tainted by narrow East West conflict, nationalism or completely self-centred ethnic or religious interests while conscious about justice in all these issues and areas. They are not narrow nationalist but may be enlightened patriots. They are in essence an enlightened generation although at times had to serve the country or different regimes almost suppressing their genuine views or true conscience some being public servants or judicial officers.

At retirement and without other obligations, they are now free from most of these encumbrances except what they choose voluntarily. In essence they are free. They also may be largely free from family obligations or worries on financial matters except perhaps on health. This is their strength. They can be brave. They can be quite a ‘nuisance’ to a tyrannical regime which is the case in Sri Lanka today. Becoming at least a ‘nuisance’ is a profound non-violent method of struggle.

I have seen some of them writing to this forum as well as to others on public issues of national importance expressing their genuine and frank opinions. Although they have not expressed the same opinion, they have aired their opposition to the three main scourges of this country; violence, corruption and communalism. There are other issues that they have touched upon such as inter-communal justice or injustice. Some of these senior writers are: Rajasingham Narendran, RMB Senanayake, Latheef Farook, Savitri Goonesekere, Jayantha Dhanapala, Austin Fernando, S Sivathasan, CV Wigneswaran, SL Gunasekera, Chandra Jayaratne, Lal Wijenayake and Charitha Ratwatte to mention a few but not in a particular order. I have mentioned their names without their titles. There are others who have always been vocal like Basil Fernando or Jehan Perera perhaps among the seniors, and others who are young that I don’t intend to mention.

My main concern however would be about many others who could make a definitive contribution if they express their views or determination. They should organize. I beg to mention few names with their indulgence. Some of these are Bradman Weerakoon, Seelan Kadirgamar, Kumari Jayawardena, Laksiri Jayasuriya, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi, Ranjith Amerasinghe, Lloyd Fernando, Chandrasena Maliyadda and KHJ Wijayadasa. I mention KHJ Wijayadasa with some gratification as he was one of my teachers who taught briefly at St Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa, but first inspired me to learn beyond a textbook. They and many others particularly from the Tamil and Muslim communities could play an important role in collectively inspiring the younger generations to fight for democracy and social justice and particularly against corruption, violence and communalism in society. I should also mention another name and that is former President Chandrika Kumaratunga whose contribution to a collective of seniors would be immensely useful.

I have also noticed many commentators to this forum in pseudonyms but appear to be seniors judging from the rapid ‘intrusions’ that they make. I am not referring to the few ‘regime defenders’ but to others who can come in their real names as much as possible and make a collective contribution. Alter all seniors have nothing much to lose, except perhaps their ‘self-inflicted chains.’ I am not proposing anything adventurous but to become an ‘intellectual nuisance’ to the regime and its acolytes. They all do not need to write, but they can get together and write petitions or statements and perhaps gather and mark their protests on issues relevant to democracy and human rights or holding a placard or poster. They can become a bigger nuisance that way. The government would not dare to do anything to the respected seniors, hopefully.

The strength of the seniors is also shown by the LLRC Report. If not for their vast experience, empathy for genuine human grievances, enlightened and democratic values the Report could not have received the national and international acclamation. Those commission members are an example for the others. Seniors should refuse any service to this brutal and tyrannical regime. Even if they have any ‘duty to perform’ it should be in the independent spirit like demonstrated by the LLRC. This regime should be starved of all intellectual support from the academia, public servants or professionals. It should be starved to extinction.

Let me finish this article with this story. People of Geneva every year celebrate a festival called L’Escalade in mid-December. It is about a victory over the invasion of the army of Savoy to subjugate Geneva in 1602. There are many versions to the story or the festival. It is popularly said however that when the hostile army invaded the city, the seniors first asked the youth to withdraw to the jungle for safety. When the troops entered the city they were happy because only the seniors were to be seen with women. Then they started celebrating the victory. Women in the meanwhile were cooking a large cauldron of soup. The seniors created nuisance by cracking jokes and ridiculing the troops. With the help of the seniors, the women then poured boiling soup over the celebrating troops. They were confused and disoriented. Then the city youth came and chased away the invaders. There were no soldiers in Geneva, but free men and women. This shows the power of the seniors and of course women which I forgot to specially mention in the article being a man perhaps.

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