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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2587

Global ‘yacker’ to save Lanka!

By Vasantha Raja

Thanks to the international community’s timely intervention, Sri Lanka has once again been narrowly saved from a runaway killing spree that was drifting fast towards a ‘suicidal’ war. Better to keep the fingers crossed still though, for the situation is still not totally out of dire straits. The fact that both sides have come to Oslo to discuss the possibility of reviving the crisis-ridden ceasefire agreement, however, is a clear breakthrough.

It is a positive sign that Norway, Japan, the US and the EU - the peace process’s ‘global guardians’ - have come out as never before to strictly warn both sides (like parents would to quarrelling children) to behave themselves, or else.

The EU ban on the LTTE as a terrorist group was not intended to isolate the Tigers – they can still have cordial relations with the EU for all peace-promoting purposes.

In fact, it achieved at least two useful things: First, it gave a clear message to the Tigers that the methods they often resort to in order to win Tamils’ legitimate aspirations are not welcome.

Second, it ridiculed Sinhala extremists’ naïve anti-imperialist rhetoric accusing the west of being hell-bent on helping the Tigers to split the country.

The truth is that the global political leadership - including India - sees Sri Lanka’s dragging ethnic conflict as a potentially dangerous trouble-spot in the region’s globalisation process.

They know that the local leaders’ failures reflect the diehard ethnic prejudices that thrive in the post-colonial world. Their efforts, therefore, amount to an attempt to guide the adversaries in such a way as to benefit from the rich international expertise available to help bring about peace and reconciliation through imaginative state structures. As Richard Boucher, the US’s man in charge of South Asian affairs, correctly said Sri Lanka’s government should develop ‘a true vision for peace’.

There is no global agenda, “an imperialist conspiracy”, to divide the country, as some JVP theoreticians preach.

Many Tamils, on the other hand, saw the European Union’s ban on the LTTE as a sign of the global communities’ bias towards the Colombo government. But a barrage of brickbats on the government soon put that imbalance right.

While openly acknowledging the Tamils’ legitimate aspirations “to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their own homeland” Richard Broucher said that Colombo should take immediate steps to “demonstrate its sincerity” in carrying out the commitments made in the Oslo communiqué and in the first round of Geneva talks in February.

The co-chairs’ recent Tokyo communiqué said: ‘(The government) must show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims.’

All this is powerful stuff, no doubt.

In essence, the global message is this: do not budge on the federal solution and the commitment to stop Tamil paramilitaries launching violent operations from Sri Lankan military-controlled areas. Also, that the government should make sure foreign aid is effectively distributed to Tamils as well as Sinhalese.

Failure by the government to deliver on these commitments may result in a cutting-off of all funds except humanitarian aid.

Coming from the richest and the most powerful section of the world community, which accounts for 85% of the gross global product, these words sound ominous indeed. And this time they seem to mean business.

India’s response to the peace co-chairs’ tough stance shows its tacit backing of this global approach. India’s defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said, “India is not actively participating in this process”, adding: ‘[India’s] pro-active or active participation will complicate the issue instead of resolving it.”

Understandable indeed! India’s fresh economic ties with Sri Lanka, its unique links to the Tamil community via Tamil Nadu politics and still very vivid memories of the nightmarish previous (1987) involvement in Sri Lanka’s peacemaking all make it too sensitive for India to intervene freely at this controversial juncture.

So, perhaps India feels it is advisable to leave it to the other, rather remoter, players.

President Rajapaksa has responded sensibly to the global appeal by calling an All Party Conference to design a final settlement to be put to the LTTE in eventual peace talks.

An Advisory Council comprising main Sinhala parties has been assigned to perform the task. That is very positive. Whether these are mere cosmetic exercises to hoodwink the co-chairs or whether the president really means business remain to be seen. Assuming the latter I would like to recall a few points that I have been at pains to explain all along.

First, proposing a “devolution package” for Tamil regions while leaving the Sinhala-dominated centre in tact will resolve nothing. It would merely be a recipe to worsen the existing defects in the current peace process, which have led to mutual suspicions and hidden agendas, and so forth.

Also, in the Sri Lanka context, one cannot expect piecemeal solutions to reach the climax on one fine day. For a durable solution, one needs to take the bull by the horns – at the centre, where the problem really lies.

Fortunately, president Rajapaksa has rightly emphasised the importance of designing a suitable final settlement for the country, and southern constitutional experts, hopefully, will take note of the global leaders’ explicit referral to “the Oslo Communiqué” and the necessity for “dramatic political changes.

Secondly, I want to emphasise once again the importance of presenting an easily comprehensible image of a final settlement for ordinary people’s benefit.

Of course, it is nice to have an expertly-written constitution handy to be negotiated at peace talks. It is more important, however, for the purposes of mass consumption, to have a vividly memorable picture of the final design.

It was with this in mind that I proposed the model of a supreme parliament and regional parliaments, anticipating future constitutional developments in Britain. [Read my article “Britain’s answer to separatism – Lessons for us” at www.lankaeye.com]

Whether the government should negotiate for a single regional administration for north and east or two separate administrations (parliaments) is another important matter I have discussed elsewhere [Read my ‘Trincomalee – Sri Lanka’s Jerusalem’ in the same website.], and I shall not raise that issue here.

I have suggested for several tangible reasons the prudence of developing the north-central historical city of Anuradhapura as Sri Lanka’s future administrative capital in which to locate the supreme parliament.

Quite apart from its proximity to all relevant regions of the island and potential to relieve Colombo’s suffocation from demographic pressure, it could also immensely contribute to the prosperity of hitherto undeveloped regions – which would be invaluable in strengthening inter-community relations in ethnically-divided northern, eastern and central provinces.

In an immediate sense, such a model is bound to stir the imagination of all communities - particularly the Tamils - that the government really means business this time when it talks of “radical change” at the centre.

To win the hearts and minds of the people, not only should this change be radical. It should be seen to be radical too.

- Asian Tribune -

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