Question of peace or war in Lanka

Is Sri Lanka slipping back into war or are we seeing a greater alignment of forces between the country’s two main political parties?

This column has argued over the years that the most sensible thing that should happen in this country is the two main parties — the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance and the main opposition United National Party — getting together. The LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is not our biggest enemy; it is the two parties unwilling to get together for the sake of the country.

Together they represent more than 80 per cent of the vote and are a formidable force that cannot be stopped even by the Tigers. There have been times in the past 20 years when they have come close to a joint partnership for national unity and peace. Both parties whichever side of the political fence they are in must endorse any solution to the peace process.

In this context, after President Mahinda Rajapaksa won power last November, his tactic of an All-Party conference has won him many news friends and admirers. The conference is a forum where the President has kept the opposition briefed at all times of government steps towards peace and even invited them to sit in his special operations room where he has had direct contact with the government’s negotiating team during last’s months resumed peace talks in Geneva. This was indeed a rare gesture given that governing parties are reluctant to allow the opposition into the negotiating process.

What was most interesting was last Saturday’s statement by all parties, which provides a ray of hope that a durable peace is in the offing. Rajapaksa brought together political consensus among the democratic polity of this country. A statement endorsed by all parties represented in parliament except for the pro-rebel Tamil National Alliance said: “It is our firm belief that differences that arise among different communities of our country and the various streams of political opinion should be resolved through the democratic process of discussion directed towards peace.” The 14 parliamentary parties that signed the statement rejected all acts of terrorism, cruel murders and other forms of violence. In another rare occurrence, the parties also “observed with deep regret, the several attempts by certain sections of the foreign media to distort the truth in relation to the incidents that have taken place in our country. “

The pro-government Weekend Standard newspaper said that two questions have now arisen in the country: That was whether the government should continue to bow down its head to LTTE atrocities, or launch counter attacks to avoid their attacks. “The other meaning of this is whether we want peace or war.” Indeed many appear to be asking this question these days but are also comforted by the fact that there is an All-Party conference where the views of parties that represent the entire country are discussed.

Last week there was some hope: The co-chairs of the peace process — Norway, Japan, the EU and the US — after a meet in Oslo revealed that the government and the LTTE were keen to resume talks in Geneva.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo