|Tuesday, 17 September 2002|
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Reason to be cautiously optimistic
If the eloquent speeches made by the head of the Government delegation to the peace talks in Thailand, Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and his counterpart in the LTTE delegation, Dr. Anton Balasingham, are anything to go by, the correct foundational principles seem to have been laid for the continuation and consolidation of the Lankan peace process.
The process of ironing out differences and narrowing gaps in perception and approach is yet to begin in earnest, but we seem to have got off to a sound start in this attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict, which has, of course, bled the country white and visited enormous deprivations and hardships on all communities.
Particularly significant is Professor Peiris' insistence on both sides to the conflict negotiating in "sincerity, openness and candour" and arriving at a solution which will make everyone a winner. The principal implications of these positions are that both sides avoid a confrontational, combative approach at the talks and aim at accommodating each other's legitimate hopes and needs. Besides, the adoption of these principles would preclude the possibility of the talks degenerating into a game of one upmanship.
There is no question of one side to the talks seeking to further its aims and ambitions at the expense of the other. Given the fact that the national question is basically a conflict of interests between two communities, it would be unrealistic not to expect contradictions between the hopes and aspirations of one party and those of the other. However, as to whether these differences would continue to hinder or facilitate the peace process would depend considerably on the spirit in which the negotiations are conducted. If the interests of one party and one party only, are sought at the expense of the other in a spirit of self-centredness, the talks are bound to draw a blank. However, if the talks are carried out in a spirit of compromise, with a willingness to give-and-take, no problem or hurdle would prove to be insurmountable. As Prof. Peiris rightly pointed out, the time is at hand for the parties to draw on their "reserves of wisdom, generosity and large-heartedness".
In the final analysis, it is not any abstract, theoretical principle which would win the day for all Lankans, but their treasured spiritual heritage, which is there for the tapping. This is a restatement of the simple maxim that "peace begins with a smile". For, a smile exudes acceptance of the other and cordiality; two qualities we usually associate with the innocence of childhood. Hence the thought-provoking sentiment that wisdom is given to "babes" and not "grown ups".
Dr. Balasingham's opening speech had an equally positive import. Many a highly emotive and contentious issue has been associated with the ethnic conflict but none of these came to be expressed by him. As indicated by Dr. Balasingham, what is not appreciated enough is the fact that a ceasefire has been holding in the land for the past seven months. The position taken by detractors notwithstanding, it is our position that it is this spell of relative peace and stability and the incontrovertible evidence that the Government means well, which have enabled the LTTE to give the negotiations a try. This explodes the fallacy that peace can come from the barrell of a gun.
It is also significant that the LTTE's chief negotiator referred to the North-East as the home of also the Muslim community. This augurs well for the acceptance of Muslim rights and for the accommodation of the Muslims in a future power-sharing arrangement.
Next, the point was made by Balasingham that normality is inconceivable without a rapid resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction program in the war-affected areas. Granting the rights of the Tamil people would only be a phrase on paper until the material needs of the community are met.
Lastly, the crucial point was made that peace goes with justice and freedom. Granting the Tamil people the right to self-determination doesn't entail the creation of a separate state. A chief demand is that the Tamil people be given this right and are permitted the opportunity "to co-exist with others". There is no question of communities breaking away from each other.
Produced by Lake House