A Political Solution in the New Year
Addressing a gathering of religious leaders by Religions for Peace International and its Sri Lankan chapter on December 19, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said that the majority of people do not want another conflict even though politicians cannot resist using the ethnic card. She insisted the Sri Lankan people were not racist but were provoked by politicians. She said that public opinion had turned favourable for a political solution based on inter-ethnic power sharing and devolution of power to the provincial level from 23 percent to 68 percent in a matter of two years. The National Peace Council believes that the present time is opportune for a breakthrough to a political solution. We recall President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pledge a year ago that he would ensure a political solution in Sri Lanka’s 75th year of Independence, which is now in its 11th month. We are pleased that the cabinet has approved two major pieces of legislation to establish a Commission for Truth, Harmony and Reconciliation of Sri Lanka and also to legally establish an Office for National Unity and Reconciliation. These are to be published as government gazette notifications to enable the general public and all interested parties to further submit opinions and proposals in this regard.
The civil society initiative undertaken by the Association of War Affected Women in bringing together an active section of the Tamil Diaspora along with a section of senior Buddhist monks is another positive development that can lay the groundwork for a political solution. NPC sees this civil society initiative as a first step in bridging the divide between its extremes which can give rise to wider dialogue and deeper understanding. We are pleased that the Diaspora members and Buddhist monks were able to agree on a joint set of principles necessary to resolve the conflict in an equitable and sustainable manner. This set of principles was also shared with politicians in parliament and with all major religious clergy and met with their general consent which was also welcomed by members of the diplomatic community as they are universal values demonstrating equality and equity among communities. There are some who oppose this initiative. The National Peace Council calls on those holding opposing viewpoints to find ways and means of consolidating it for the common good of the country rather than focusing on their parochial and narrow political interests.
However, we note that on the ground, the large military presence in the North and East even nearly 15 years after the end of the war, and associated surveillance of the security arms of the state, cause unease among the people. We also note issues of land being claimed for religious and farming reasons by those from outside the Northern and Eastern provinces, which is to the detriment of the people at the ground level. As a priority the people need a government they can trust, one that will safeguard their land and ensure their personal safety and provide for them a government administration where they could use their language, freely. The provincial councils were meant to do this, and we call on the government to hold those elections without further delay so that people at the provincial level will be governed by those they voted for. As another year ends, a new one begins, we call on the government to address these problems on the ground and instill confidence in the people of the north and east that their economic and justice concerns will be met as an equal people of Sri Lanka.
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka