Letters to the Editor


The importance of the all-party conference
This week, President Mahinda Rajapakse has invited all parties for talks aimed at reaching a consensus on the core issue that has fuelled half a century of conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

In accepting this challenge, the President and our political leaders have shown they are ready to take risks to pursue peace. They have worked closely and believe they have the vision, courage and ability to build a fair, just and lasting peace.

For 16 years, our political leaders have tried to resolve the root causes of this conflict so that all Sri Lankans can enjoy the blessings of a normal life. Those years have been full of moments of great promise (the handshake at Hilton Hotel, the Indo-Lanka Agreement and the Ceasefire Agreement) and of great tragedy (death of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, President Premadasa and more recently Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar). Now we must honour those who have given their lives by finishing the job.

Underlying this challenge are the most profound questions about beliefs, political identity and collective fate. Etched in each side’s mind are the intense fears and emotions and a deep-rooted commitment to defend their people’s interests. So why this all-party conference and why now? The answer is simple. While northern and southern negotiators have made progress, the most complex and sensitive issues are still unresolved. Success now depends on decisions only our political leaders can make. While there clearly is no guarantee of success, not to try would be to guarantee failure.

Delay is no longer an option. The parties themselves have set a deadline for resolving the final issues dividing them. Moreover, the conflict knows no status quo. It can move forward to peace or slide back into turmoil. It will not stand still. If the parties do not seize this moment to make progress, there will be more hostility and more bitterness, perhaps even more violence.

And to what end? Eventually after more bloodshed and tears, it will be back to the negotiating table where they will face the same history, the same geography, the same hatreds and the same tough choices.

For the President and the political leaders, the challenge is to draw the contours of a long-awaited peace — a peace that can fulfil the people’s quest for security and recognition, a genuine reconciliation with the Tamils and true acceptance; a peace that can determine their destiny on their own land.
Neither side can achieve all its goals. Negotiations must create an outcome that is realistic, balanced and fair, meeting the fundamental objectives of both sides and reconciling competing grievances that strengthens the two parties rather than weakens one of them.

We ordinary Sri Lankans have a profound interest in a Sri Lanka whose people are prosperous, at peace and willing to confront common challenges as partners. For the same reason, the rest of the world and especially the rest of the region cannot afford to be bystanders. For all who are committed to the cause of peace and to the wellbeing of the Sri Lankan people, now is the time to lend support to the peacemakers.

Nihal Hettiarachchi
Colombo 5

Unite for peace
Just two months after the new President of Sri Lanka took office, the country is in a total mess. The north-east is witnessing a killing spree while Colombo is on a searching spree for peace.

In the north-east, fishermen dread to go fishing while three-wheel drivers are scared to go on hires and Muslim farmers, out of fear, do not go to their paddy fields in Tamil areas.

The ceasefire agreement is broken by both parties on several occasions. In this context, I would like to request the President to strike an immediate deal with the main opposition UNP and form a joint peace committee comprising the SLFP, UNP, TULF, JVP, JHU and all up-country parties.

If the JVP and the JHU oppose this union, leave them aside, at least as a temporary measure, to achieve a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.
Negotiations are the only way to peace.

K. Uthuman Lebbai

AIDS cloud on migrant workers
With World Aids Day falling on December1, we saw on TV many discussions and interviews where National AIDS Programme (NAP) staff stated that around half the reported HIV positive women in Sri Lanka were migrant workers.

By this, does the NAP imply that these women have been infected abroad?
Most of these women seek jobs as "housemaids" in Middle East (ME) countries. According to UNAIDS, of the countries in North Africa and the Middle East, only Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Morocco have somewhat high HIV prevalence rates. Countries where most of these women are employed have low HIV prevalence rates like Sri Lanka.

Prior to employment, these individuals have to submit an HIV negative report. Unlike in the early years of NAP when HIV testing was carried out exclusively by government laboratories, now most of these reports are issued by the private sector. Whether these tests are correctly done or not is not known.

If the NAP implies that these women are infected abroad, then they should be HIV negative when leaving and HIV positive when they return or shortly afterwards if they are in the window period. Since no follow-up testing is carried out, how does NAP arrive at this conclusion?

In a survey conducted some years ago, 30 percent of the female sex workers recruited for the study were found to be Middle East returnees. Can the NAP precisely state whom they classify as a migrant worker? If a woman who has returned from the Middle East tests HIV positive one year later, is this person classified as a migrant worker?

In Sri Lanka, employers are quite often reluctant to take Middle East returnees as domestics because of the statements made by the NAP.

A Sociologist

Another elephant story
I read a letter in The Sunday Times of January 8 where Prema Ranawaka Das of Moratuwa says ‘.... some elephants are squeezed into fancy dress to lend glamour to peraheras’. But I have a different story to relate.

Some years ago, in a small temple, there was a perahera with two elephants. When the perahera was about to start, a third elephant came late to the temple. It was received with pleasure and introduced immediately to the procession. But the animal refused to fall in line with the others. The mahout tried hard to move the animal into position by shouting with all his might and uttering all the kind words he knew from the elephant vocabulary. Still the animal refused to budge an inch.

The high priest then went into the temple and brought a thick blanket and threw it over the animal's back. Lo and behold, without a hum the elephant joined the procession and the perahera proceeded.

P.A. Binduhena

Visa for the Dalai Lama: Where are the Buddhists?
Can we have Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations without the most famous Buddhist leader -- the Dalai Lama? The United Nations was established to protect all nations and safeguard their security. The unforgivable shame of the UN, when it turned away and repulsed the Tibetan plea for help against the Chinese, pales beside the cowardice and hypocrisy of "Buddhist countries", including Sri Lanka, which watched in silence.

By all accounts, this anti-Buddhism, expressed in cowardice and hypocrisy, is still rampant in our land, in spite of the JHU’s influence on the government. We hear our "leaders" are worried at the impending Chinese smack, if they decide to grant a visa for the Dalai Lama to visit Sri Lanka.

When can we hope for another Dutugemunu or Parakramabahu to render us our independence? Those days - going by the ruins and inscriptions - how tall we stood! Is not our now puny and stunted status before the worshipped "international community" the result of our own cowardly behaviour? What happened to the Buddhist call for self-respect, self-reliance and courage?
The only hope for the organisers of the celebrations in honour of the one who brooked no cowardice or hypocrisy in thought, word or deed, would be to smuggle in the Dalai Lama - perhaps under a cowl? Didn’t Princess Hema Malini smuggle the relic under her luxuriant tresses?

We hear he is eager to worship this relic of his Master, enshrined in our Maligawa. However, as a true follower of the Buddha, endowed with integrity and courage, the only way to bring him in would be with the honours befitting his status. Are there no true Buddhists to accord the Dalai Lama his dues?

Prema Ranawaka-Das

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