CBK ready to
By Feizal Samath
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, embroiled in a bitter dispute with
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's eight-month old government,
says she is ready to meet LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for
face-to-face peace talks.
"I am prepared
to talk to Mr. Prabhakaran of the LTTE on behalf of the country.
After all I corresponded with him during our previous peace bid
in 1995," the President, who lost an eye in a Tamil rebel assassination
attempt two years ago, said when asked whether she was still prepared
to sit at the same table with the rebel leader and discuss a political
solution to end the 19-year long ethnic conflict.
despite a confrontation that is close to breaking up an acrimonious
cohabitation with Mr. Wickrem-esinghe's ruling party and may see
early parliamentary polls, also noted in an exclusive interview
with The Sunday Times that she remained committed to working with
the government on the peace track.
old President, who is now fighting the biggest political battle
of her career having to work with a hostile government, spoke on
a range of issues like migrant women workers, violence against women
and children, and peace.
Asked why the
country's two main parties could not come together at least on a
few national issues like the ethnic conflict, Ms. Kumaratunga said
she strongly believed in cohabitation not only because "it
is necessary but also has been mandated by the people through elections."
She said it
was essential that "we lift the ethnic problem out of the realm
of the local political divide and be a consensus policy rather like
the PA-UNP consensus on a market economy."
context I remain committed to working with the UNP government and
in furthering the devolution of power proposals put forward by my
party in 1997 as a starting point. My cards are on the table. Perhaps
we can take the Thimpu principles as the LTTE cards on a separate
responses, according to political analysts, appeared to be more
conciliatory and acceptance of working with the UNP government but
was out of line with her recent public barrage against some government
Asked what saddens
her most in Sri Lanka, the President said it was the nation's leaders
letting down their people badly. "They (people) deserve so
much more than being a poor struggling war torn country and our
nation's leaders took a nation with much promise at independence
and made a basket case of it."
temper this sorrow with hope for the future because I believe our
people are extremely resilient and will rise above these circumstances
in time to come."
also has a clear vision on the future of her children - they should
not take to politics. "
I believe I have convinced and
persuaded my children to pursue their careers and serve their communities
through private rather than public life," she said. If her
children - both studying in the UK - follow the advice of their
mother, it would bring the curtain down on the Bandaranaike dynasty
in politics, one of the most prominent political families in South
Asia. Her brother and sister are both in their mid to late 50s and
are either unmarried or divorced.
family along with the Gandhis in India and the Bhuttos in Pakistan
has been among the dominant political families that straddled the
political spectrum in South Asia for close to half a century. This
is believed to be the first time Kumaratunga has expressed a wish
that her children should give a wide berth to politics.
On her latest
effort to convene a national consultation on peace, the President
said she hoped this would complement the government's dealings with
women workers, the President said what was worrying was that they
left behind a trail of social problems which have a few solutions.
"The case of the migrant worker is a complex issue and the
victims - often for life - are innocent children," she said,
adding, "there are few remedies for this through politics and
public policies. Perhaps the answers are of a moral and spiritual
But Ms. Kumaratunga
noted that the increasing number of women in the expatriate workforce
and their new earning power made them a social segment with a lot
are no easy solutions. We have tried to educate the women about
investing and saving. Many do invest in a home and education for
their children. We should perhaps encourage the young and single
to go as migrant workers rather than mothers," she said.
against women and children, the President said her PA government
tightened laws making spousal rape a crime, and easier for battered
women to get a divorce and penalties for abuse stiffer. "But
weak implementation is an overall malaise in our institutions of
governance and we must eliminate the social stigma of rape and sexual
abuse as well as to ensure justice and healing for the victims,"