The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

5th March 2000

Way to peace is found within

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The Norwegian govern-ment has come forward as a facilitator to help Sri Lanka find a solution to the ethnic crisis. Will the Norwegian intervention lead to a solution?

At present, the enmity one side entertains against the other in the Sri Lankan conflict appears to be on the rise. The President had a narrow escape when a bomb exploded at an election rally, seriously impairing her vision in one eye. The President called Mr. Prabhakaran a demon in a Rupavahini interview. This perhaps shows the extent of her hatred towards him.

Although the President has not retaliated in kind, targeting Mr. Prabhakaran, the main aim of the government's war against the LTTE has been to destroy him. This very intent is sufficient for Prabhakaran to harbour a deadly hatred towards the President.

Amidst such enmity, these two sides are getting ready to solve the problems through talks facilitated by Norway.

In 1994 Prabhakaran did not follow a policy of helping Chandrika Kumaratunga's victory. Nor did he attempt to prevent it. At the height of the presidential election campaign of 1994, Mr. Prabhakaran killed UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake, whom he hated. Irrespective of this assassination, Ms. Kumaratunga would have still won the elections, though the victory would not have been so outstanding, had he lived.

At the 1994 elections, Ms. Kumaratunga declared that she would end the war and usher in peace — a declaration she made probably without much understanding of the issue. After the victory at the parliamentary election she immediately went in for discussions with the LTTE, probably because of a belief that such a move would assure her victory at the subsequent presidential election. She did not initiate talks with a sound understanding of the gravity of the problem or of the manner in which it had to be solved.

When the talks collapsed, Mr. Prabhakaran declared war. This was met with a similar declaration from the government side.

At the military campaign launched to capture Jaffna, Mr. Prabhakaran allowed Jaffna to be captured and adopted a strategy of encirclement and attack.

By December 1999 — when presidential elections were being held —both sides had sustained great damage and the war had reached a stalemate. Ms. Kumaratunga had failed to inflict final defeat on Mr. Prabhakaran, and he too had failed to inflict a final defeat on her.

At the presidential election of 1999, Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, adopted a friendly attitude towards Mr. Prabhakaran. Like Ms. Kumaratunga, Mr. Wickremesinghe put forward a programme that did not displease Mr. Prabhakaran. Like Ms. Kumaratunga, he too must have wanted to keep Prabhakaran in a position of neutrality if his support was not forthcoming.

Mr. Prabhakaran made a serious attempt to remove from the political picture Ms. Kumaratunga who was Mr. Wickremesinghe's main opponent, in the same way that he (Prabhakaran) got rid of Ms. Kumaratunga's main opponent Gamini Dissanayake at the 1994 election.

However, Mr. Prabhakaran missed his target. He could only take an eye of hers, instead of her life. Like Ms. Kumaratunga who did not point a finger at the LTTE when Mr. Dissanayake was killed, the UNP also failed to pin the blame on the LTTE.

Although the UNP refrained from blaming Ms. Kumaratunga for Mr. Dissanayake's assassination, the PA, on the contrary, dragged the UNP to the assassination attempt on the President, and try to gain political advantage.

This shows that the two main parties are only interested in power and have not so far been able to identify properly the problems of power. Both parties are acting in the same foolish manner. They talk about the ethnic crisis not with any deep understanding about it, but with their political interest in mind.

Coming back to the peace process, it is unlikely that the two belligerents would slacken their animosity towards each other just because a third party is offering facilitation.

There should be a programme to lessen the hatred between the two protagonists and to promote mutual understanding between them. Such a programme should not be a short term one.

There should also emerge a powerful public movement, nationally —among the Sinhalese and the Tamil people — and internationally to push the two leaders to a common agreement. In such an event these two leaders would work towards an agreement, only if they are convinced that their failure would arouse the people's anger and contempt.

Or, a third country which is not distrusted by the two main parties to the conflict — or which can command the respect of the two parties — must intervene and prepare a realistic agenda for a common agreement and get the two parties to agree to abide by it.

Otherwise the people of this country will have to live with this crisis until the leaders of the two parties leave from the scene and are replaced by those who think realistically or by powerful movements emerging from the ashes.

In that sense the present attempt at a peaceful solution will inevitably become a great illusion.

It means that the people of both the Sinhala and Tamil communities of this country will have to live with the scourge of dead bodies for longer.

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