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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

Role of Civil Society and a Joint Forum for Durable Peace in Sri Lanka

By Dr. Siri Gamage

It is now well known -yet again- that the war and violence perpetrated by using modern weaponry including suicide techniques bring unparalleled misery to children, women, aged, men in civilian sphere and those in various professional fields who perform their daily tasks for a living. The experience in Sri Lanka in the past few weeks shows that the parties to the conflict are engaged in heavy combat and clandestine operations to claim another victory.

The parties to the conflict are also heavily politicized. At a time of crisis like the present one civil society organizations, clergy, non-partisan intellectuals, journalists etc. voice their opinions primarily asking the two parties to settle the differences by negotiations. Interestingly, and to some extent surprisingly, international players including the UN are also repeating the same doctrine.

What if the two parties to the conflict, or even one party, do not want to come to the negotiation table? In such a situation, what use is it in repeating the same mantra? Who is listening? It is in this context that the role of a third party or a force becomes highly useful for a peaceful settlement of the differences between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The purpose of this article is to show what the civil society organizations, individuals and the general public who are non-partisan and committed to the peaceful settlement of the differences can do.

The current trend seems to be for some of these individuals and organizations to align with one or the other party platforms. This is because they seem to believe that in a situation of armed conflict, LTTE attacks on civilians and armed forces personnel, and LTTE's refusal to come to the negotiating table, there is some justification in Government's military actions against the LTTE. The recent combat operations over the water issue are an example.

I believe this trend is going to strengthen the division in the country rather than ameliorate these. Therefore, it is highly important to reflect on the critical role that civil society organizations and individuals can play.

The need of the hour seems to be for these well-meaning organizations and individuals to set up a 'joint forum for peace' and mobilize the civilian population to agitate nationally and internationally. These organizations and individuals should come from the South, Centre and the North-east.

Initially, it is to be a non-partisan platform. However, if those associated with the governing and opposition parties or the LTTE also want to support the agitation activities of the joint forum it should be allowed with some caution, because political forces in the South or the North cannot be completely disregarded in a mass movement for peace. This third space or force is highly important at a time like this in order to reverse the current trend toward more violence.

Leadership of the joint forum should be drawn from all ethnic groups. I believe there is one organization emerging along this line at the moment in Sri Lanka. There are others playing a similar role. However it is necessary for all these organizations to forge a link and set up a joint forum.

Apart from agitating the parties to settle the differences through negotiation, caring for civilian population in the affected areas, avoiding violent activities wherever possible, not targeting political opponents for death, this forum also can establish a sub-committee to work on a peace formula for Sri Lanka. A proposal emerging from a civilian, non-partisan forum like this can have much more credibility in the eyes of the parties to the conflict and among the civilian population as well.

At some stage, if the forum develops and accrues credibility among the Sri Lankan population, it may even function as a mediator for a political settlement.

Putting words of peace into action is highly important at a time like the current one. Agitation for peace on a mass scale has to be followed with an action plan for a political settlement. Far too long the civilian population in Sri Lanka placed their confidence in politicians of various colors to bring peace to the country.

It is now clear in more than one way that this confidence is misplaced. Political leaders in the South haven't been able to deliver peace in a durable sense.

While acknowledging that there is a government initiated process to work out a formula for a political settlement, it is highly doubtful whether the process will yield sustainable peace without the conflict having to go through another 'phase' as in Lebanon. This next phase can be as bloody as it was in Lebanon or if a joint forum emerges and agitates for peace - it can be more civil, humane, and expedient. I am not sure even the National Peace Council in Sri Lanka has developed a proposal for a peaceful settlement of the conflict other than 'in generic terms'?

Dr. Siri Gamage: is a Senior Lecturer, School of Professional Development & Leadership, Faculty of Education, Health and Professional Studies, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, ,Australia. Also he is Member of the Centre for Research on Education in Context; Affiliate Fellow, UNE Asia Centre; and Member of Australian Migration Research network. Dr. Sri Gamage submitted this article to Asian Tribune.

- Asian Tribune -

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