27th January 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















Lifting ban on LTTE: 

The peace process resurrected by the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration is at a crucial turning point after smooth sailing for about a month during which both the government and the LTTE declared and extended ceasefires. 

With a reinvited Norwegian delegation shuttling between London and Colombo carryaing messages to and from the government and the LTTE, the peace process was gathering momentum until the Tamil National Alliance, now acting as an LTTE front, called for the lifting of the ban imposed on the LTTE.

The peace process, especially the deproscription issue, was extensively dealt in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's policy statement on Tuesday in parliament. Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar opening the debate on the policy statement on behalf of the opposition PA, said the PA fully backed the peace process but he urged the UNF government to act with caution, especially with regard to the deproscription demand. 

Though the PA walked out of parliament after Mr. Kadirgamar's statement without fully debating the Premier's policy statement, the issue of deproscription has stirred a lively debate outside parliament.

The Sunday Times today carry extracts of the Prime Minister's policy statement and the PA's response along with views expressed by S. L. Gunasekera and Kethesh Loganathan.

Honesty is only guarantee for peace: Ranil

I intend to speak on the main conflicts and issues we are facing since gaining independence, in an honest and decisive manner. Time is now upon us to speak out honestly and courageously.

Prime Minister WickremesinghePrime Minister Wickremesinghe

The various crises we face today are inter-connected. These have manifested in different forms. Chief among these conflicts is the North-East War which started in 1983 and continued for 19 long years. Devastation caused by the war has wide ramifications affecting a vast area of activity. Over 20,000 personnel of the Three Services and the Police have sacrificed their lives. According to statistics quoted by the foreign media more than 60,000 lives have been lost due to the war. The number who have been maimed or disabled is even greater. The expenditure on the war for the year 2001 alone has exceeded Rs. 80 billion. A part of this sum has been met through the Budget and the balance raised through the State Banks. A total of Rs. 500 Billion has been spent on the war during the past 19 years. Unemployment increased in leaps and bounds. Revenue declined seriously affecting development activity. Several towns were destroyed. Ultimately, it came to a situation where the country's airport and the port had to be temporarily closed down. A large number of educated and professionally qualified people of all ethnic groups from the middle income category left the country as a result. In fact if not for the war we would not have had an unemployment problem.

The objective of the LTTE in setting up a separate state in the North East by chasing away the Security Forces has not succeeded. Likewise, we have not been successful in completely eliminating the LTTE through a military solution. This is the present status of the war.

The concern of India as well as the donor countries have been drawn towards this problem today more than ever before. They steadfastly advocate a political solution to the war. In this context the centre of attention is international opinion. A solution to the North East problem will be through international opinion. We must focus our attention accordingly. In this backdrop if international opinion is with us we could protect the territorial integrity and unity of our nation.

We will gain strength if we act with one aim unitedly. This will help us win international opinion. If we allow ourselves to be divided on petty and narrow political aims we would be defeated in the face of international opinion.

Global opinion
The status of International Opinion today is against terrorism, war and resolution of conflicts through political solutions. By inviting the Government of Norway to act as an intermediary two years ago for the resolution of the North-East Conflict, we too moved towards finding a political solution.

Several countries have already banned a number of terrorist organisations by enacting legislation. Many countries have endorsed measures taken by our country towards evolving a political solution as the most appropriate step. At the same time they have also informed us to first work towards the evolution of a political solution to the conflict.

The majority of the people's wish is to work towards a solution through devolution of power democratically, ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and preserving the rights of all sections of the people. We have received a mandate to achieve this at the last elections. International opinion compels us in this direction. This compulsion is not only limited to the Government of Sri Lanka but is also equally compelling on the LTTE.

This opinion has intensified since the September 11 attack on New York. The LTTE is under pressure to give up terrorism and the armed struggle for a political solution as a result.

We are at a most decisive moment today. This is the last chance we would have in the resolution of Sri Lanka's North-East problem. We should make maximum use of this opportunity and march forward. If not, international opinion would weigh heavily against us.

We can approach peace if the Government and the LTTE make an honest, genuine and concerted effort along the same path. If the Government makes an honest effort towards peace, international opinion will be in our favour despite whatever position the LTTE takes, since a sovereign nation's honest action will have the backing of the international community which will protect us. However, if political parties are not honest in their efforts we will equally stand to lose this favourable opinion. Without international co-operation we will not achieve anything as a nation.

If we look to achieve narrow political gains by misinterpreting an honest effort, we will lose the momentum so far gained. We should not trifle with this final opportunity in achieving peace. We have no right to do so. To do so would be the greatest betrayal of our people. We should position ourselves with the rest of the world.

Peace initiative
We stated during the elections that we would address and find solutions to the suffering of our people in the North. We promised to bring normalcy to the people in the North and East. We are not prepared to let the people of the North and East be sandwiched in suffering due to the conflict between the Government and the LTTE. Forget not that the people of the North and East are also citizens of the country like you and I.

We have identified many areas affecting the people of the North and East. These problems cannot be solved in 24 hours. Neither can we alleviate their mental anguish in 24 hours. These have to be addressed, a step at a time. We estimate that it would take about eight weeks to bring an environment of normalcy in these areas.

Sending food and other items to the Wanni was only one step in this direction. This was due to plans by the Government during April last year. On successful completion of this plan we would focus what the Government's reforms would be. Similarly, we have to remove step by step, the irritants placed in the path of the Tamil people. We have by now received many reports on these issues. We will take action to reform and relax the restrictions placed on the fishing community of North and East. I consider this a duty towards our people wherever they may be.

On 24 December, the LTTE announced a cease-fire unilaterally. The Government too responded similarly. Now, there are two cessation of hostilities operating in parallel. However, these two acts are not with common consensus. Therefore, there is a difference between the two. Towards reaching a common consensus between these two announcements, messages have been initiated with the LTTE via the Norwegian Government. Within the ambit of this cease-fire the LTTE has agreed not to launch offensive operations or bombings. Similarly, the Government has opted not to launch land, sea or air strikes. Agreement has been reached that armed LTTE cadres would be confined to the areas where they are now and that the Army would not enter such areas. We must try to agree to a common framework of action during the period of cessation of hostility. Our aim is to work out a long-term cessation of hostilities through such a common agreement which would pave the way for talks.

We will focus on the Muslim community specially in the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara during the period of cessation and ensure their rights. Towards this end discussions are taking place via the Norwegian Government with the LTTE in a definite manner. We will avoid action which would hinder the fruition of our hopes in making the ceasefire last. This is our aim. Simultaneously we will ensure that the people of the North will receive the security that they require through the security forces.

We will carry forward our efforts at finding a political solution started through the Norwegian Government. It is our intention to exchange views through Norway to commence peace talks. On this basis our first step would be to agree on fundamental matters concerning peace talks. We will keep international opinion with us as a safety net every step of the way. I am aware of the experiences of Presidents J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa in the conduct of Peace Talks as well as the approach of President Chandrika Kumaratunga in this regard.

The main issue for the commencement of talks with the LTTE is the international and local ban on the LTTE. The LTTE has stated that if it were to come for talks the ban imposed on the organisation locally should be lifted. On the other hand International Opinion stresses on the need to commence talks towards achieving a political solution.

Deep thought
One aspect we should seriously consider is whether we should lose international co-operation at this juncture due to the ban imposed locally. My opinion is that the alienation of the international co-operation to Sri Lanka would pave a way for the realisation of the motives of the LTTE. We are not prepared to let go of this last chance for peace.

Deep thought is necessary on the local ban of the LTTE in view of this backdrop. I see two fundamental matters which we should consider in this regard. The first is the guarantee of the honesty of the LTTE as regards the Peace Talks. The second matter is preventing adverse effects any local arrangement would have on the international ban on the LTTE. Based on these two factors under the umbrella of a "security net" amendments governing the regulations of the local ban should be considered whilst safeguarding international opinion. This is one alternative.

Honesty is the only guarantee towards peace. It is natural that the government on the one hand and the LTTE on the other would be suspicious of each other. It is my view that the security forces should be in a state of alertness in this backdrop. However, when confidence builds up between the two sides this situation will change considerably.

After formalising the basic agreement as regards peace talks, the talks should be held within a definite time frame between the Government and the LTTE. Any questions that may arise at these talks should be argued between the Government and the LTTE. What does the LTTE want? What are the issues to be discussed? We cannot come to a definite conclusion on these matters without finalising the basic agreement as regards the talks. We will take action to brief the other political parties when these matters are clear. However, if we try to discuss and debate these matters before they surface in trying to achieve narrow political gains, we will not prevent sending wrong signals to the international community, creating doubts as regards our honesty. As a result we may stand to lose international co-operation. We should think whether by such actions we would be helping the LTTE make gains.

We have no right to play around with this last chance; we have to achieve peace in Sri Lanka. We also have no right to indulge in narrow political aims making use of the ban. 

The people have given us a clear mandate to act decisively in dealing with three burning issues facing the country. These are the war, poverty and democracy. We will accept that challenge. 18 Million people toil within our country and their sweat goes into paying my salary. They expect these problems to be solved by us to ensure them a better tomorrow. I will realise their hopes. I have spoken the truth before this House on these issues. Buddhism has taught us to address these issues without fear.

Lord Buddha sent Ananda Maharathanwahanse to recite the Rathana Suthra to Vishala Nuwara when it was faced with famine, disease and inhumanity (the three fears).

Ananda Maharathananwahanse in chanting "Ethena Suvichena Suwaththi Hothu ."

"May Sathyayen Siyalu Sathwayan Suwapath Wewa" preached the truth. Vishala Nuwara was rid of all three fears.

I have spoken truthfully today and also explained the seriousness of the three main issues affecting us. I have also explained the path to solving them with the inspiration of the Buddha Dhamma. Never before has the country and our people faced problems of this nature since independence. I have spoken the truth in the firm belief that solutions could be found to these three problems.

Let us all unite. Let us face the challenges and overcome them together.

More News/Comment
Return to News/Comment
News/Comment Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.