Civilian Casualties, Political Solution, Ethnicity and War: Change the course Sri Lanka

On paper at least, it seems that all political players are for peace, patience, political solutions and safeguarding civilian lives. On the ground, the picture emerging from Sri Lanka, particularly in the north and eastern provinces as well as border areas is quite different. Media reports civilian abductions, disappearances, killings, claymore mines, sniffer fire, and other hardships faced by the people.


Latest attack on a civilian bus with a very high casualty rate in a government controlled area and return attacks by government jets on LTTE controlled areas imply a 'hidden preference' for further engagement between those who carry arms-there seem to be no lack of these figures- in the two provinces. It is possible that the armed conflict can extend beyond the two provinces in the north and east and much more innocent civilian causalty occur in coming weeks and months unless the trend is reversed via diplomatic and political processes - locally and internationally.
Demonizing the LTTE alone is not going to bring the parties together. Blame game between the protagonists will not do the job either. What is required is an 'accelerated' political and peace process with a set time line decided unilaterally by the government if necessary.
Protracted all party conferences, peace talks in overseas locations without a shown commitment by the two parties, conduct of an undeclared war are not going to bring peace to a country constructed along ethnic lines and divided along ethnic lines.
Tamils as well as Sinhalese and other Sri Lankans are all going to suffer in many ways if the leaders of current government are not taking accelerated steps to come up with a political reform package to address the power sharing issue sooner than later.
From a military point of view the key question is weather the Sri Lankan government forces are able to take on the military establishment nurtured within the de facto Eelam state in the north and east and destroy its installations and cause serious harm to the forces on ground. Going by past experience, it is impossible to think of a scenario where the government forces will be able to strike a serious blow to LTTE forces to the point of incapacitating them without suffering similar or even more losses on its part.
Before the signing of CFA in 2002, the LTTE forces attacked the main airport in Katunayake and the economic losses resulting from this attack and decreased tourist arrivals etc. brought government coffers to a significantly lower level at the time. A similar situation can emerge if a full scale military confrontation occurs in coming weeks or months. It is a situation that can be avoided.
In a situation where the EU has banned LTTE as a terrorist organization and much international goodwill has been generated, the Sri Lanka government should accelerate the process of political reform in the country with or without Southern consensus, and more importantly with or without the LTTE agreement. The main opposition party, UNP is asking questions about the government's solution already, and there is media reports that it is not appointing a member to the advisory committee to be set up following the last meeting of the all party meeting. A blueprint for political reform can start with a 'set of principles' that a modern democratic government in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic society will adhere to.
These ought to go beyond motherhood statements and must be the ones that the government will commit it to. These principles and foregoing statements must define the nature and components of Sri Lankan polity including the status of provincial administration.
Piecemeal measures are not going to be sufficient. A substantial reform package as demanded by the LTTE political spokesperson Tamilselvan is necessary. Flowing from the principles, a set of strategies to achieve the aims of a democratic government in all areas of the country must be developed. In developing both these, it is necessary to be aware of the key issues and concerns of the LTTE but also other voices in the country. There have been suggestions in the media recently about the ability to develop a solution to the north and east problem within the existing constitution from a legal point of view.
However, my own reading is that such a solution is not going to be acceptable to the LTTE. Those who argue that a solution to the northern question can be found without serious political reform in the South is probably living in a dreamland. LTTE resistance emerged from the north because of the inefficiencies and insufficiencies of the Sri Lankan political system, processes and practices in the first place. Declining trend in democracy in the country started with the 1977 election of J.R. Jayawardena government and constitutional, legal and political changes introduced after.
This included the Presidential system superimposed on the previously existing Westminister system inherited from the British. There are many critics of the Presidential system, and unfortunately at the present time these critical voices seem to have gone hiding. Even those who were critical of the presidential system before the last election, e.g. JVP are adopting an 'ethnic discourse' thus contributing to the downward trend in the efforts of the international community and the peace process.
For God's sake start thinking as Sri Lankans, avoid further ethnicisation of the polity, and adopt a broad and substantial strategy for political reform and peace. Driving the country towards an unnecessary war and economic, civilian and infrastructural calamity thinking that war is going to bring peace will not work. Sri Lanka is not the United States or even India. it is a weak state dependent on foreign aid and loans for its daily operations. Visionary leaders can think beyond the immediate and evolve a system that ensures the equal participation of all citizens irrespective of ethnicity in the governance process.
Credibility factor is very important when electing representatives to the government, in making decisions that affect all citizens, and when contributing to the development of the country. There are many Sri Lankans other than the LTTE members who are disenchanted about the existing political system and its fairness.
This includes many in the Sri Lankan diaspora. In short, the need of the hour is 'an accelerated political package and process of reform' - not war.
Involve the LTTE in drafting this reform package. Declare a period of non-hostility even unilaterally while this package is being developed with a set time table, preferably a year or even 9 months. Such steps will stop civilian casualties that we see daily. Change the course.
Dr. Siri Gamage -Senior Lecturer, School of Professional Development & Leadership, Faculty of Education, Health and Professional Studies, University of New England, Armidale NSW Australia 2351.He is also a member of the Centre for Research on Education in Context, Affiliate and Fellow, UNE Asia Centre, and Australian Migration Research network. Dr. Siri Gamage submitted this article for publication in "Asian Tribune."
- Asian Tribune -

Von: 16.06.06 By Dr. Siri Gamage

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