|Thursday, 5 February 2004|
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Guidelines to a secure future
With the frankness and forthrightness which is characteristic of her, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has once again underscored the need for peace and unity for Sri Lanka's onward march towards a better future.
"This is a moment, as we have never seen before, in post independent Sri Lanka, when all political forces and their leaders seem to agree on one policy for the resolution of the problem that has dogged us for half a century. If we are to reap productive results from this golden opportunity, we must learn to set aside considerations of a narrow and personal nature," the President told the nation on its 56th independence anniversary.
This is indeed a timely call which the Lankan polity would do well to pay heed to. For, although differences between the Government and the President remain on Defence and connected issues, there is a broad consensus in the country that the present state of absence from war must continue.
There is a very definite "thumbs-up", so to speak, for a continuation of the ceasefire and for a prolongation of the cessation of hostilities. But as the President reminds us, the absence of war doesn't necessarily imply the presence of a substantive peace and it is the latter which must be achieved by a process of negotiations, now that there is wide agreement that peace must be sought by peaceful means and not by war.
In fact the President was perceptive enough to relate the nation-building process to the establishment of ethnic peace. Indeed, we cannot consider ourselves a nation until a negotiated solution to the ethnic conflict is worked out. Such is the magnitude of the challenge facing us.
However, as the President pointed out, the present political circumstances provide us with a rare opportunity to work unitedly towards peace.
Rather than consider the political party dichotomy between the President and the Government as an obstacle to finding solutions to our problems it should be considered an opportunity for united action which shouldn't be allowed to go abegging, It is unfortunate - given these self-evident truths - that the Government has a fixation over the Defence Ministry.
Rather than insist obdurately for its full retrieval the Government should, as the President reminded us, consider the take-over of Ministries as a step taken to ensure the security of the country and as a measure "to unite the main political forces and lead them further more effectively to find a solution to the problem through discussion." The Government would need to bear these considerations in mind while negotiating an end to the current deadlock.
The President did well to also emphasize that she was for an economic revival which involved the totality of the people, including the rural, small and medium scale entrepreneurs. A healthy note was also struck when she said that priority needs to be given to the development of the country's human resources, including women and children through the correct range of pro-people policies.
We also welcome the President's emphasis on democratic development and the need to make the series of Independent Commissions fully functional. Making the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption operational once again could help greatly in installing transparent governance.
Hollywood movies generally glorify pirates as swashbuckling heroes who stand for justice in the deep ocean, with a bit of pillage and romance on the side. The reality is quite different, however. The shipping industry loses billions of dollars as a result of maritime piracy each year. Modern day pirates plunder hundreds of ships, causing untold misery to consignees, shipowners, crew and of course, insurance companies.
Two pirate attacks against Singapore-bound commercial vessels last week have prompted a warning from maritime authorities for ships to increase security measures against sea robberies.
The shipping community should remain ever vigilant and ensure that anti-piracy plans and measures are in place, Singapore shipping authorities said.
Sea piracy has gone on for centuries, but attacks have drastically increased recently. The London-based International Maritime Bureau says there were 28 piracy attacks in the Malacca Straits, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, in 2003. Only 16 raids were reported the previous year. There have been several major pirate attacks in Sri Lankan waters too in recent years.
Modern pirates use advanced maritime surveillance techniques, high-speed vessels and sophisticated weapons to intercept and board merchant ships. Fears have also been expressed that terrorist groups could hijack cruise or goods vessels for a September 11-style operation.
There are growing calls within the shipping industry for vessel operators to take swift and effective countermeasures. These include installing pirate intrusion alarms, closed-circuit television cameras and better lighting and surveillance techniques.
Maritime authorities should also intensify Navy/coastguard patrols especially in pirate-infested waters and share intelligence on the movements of pirate groups. Such information can be transmitted in real time to ships and navies for immediate evasive or defensive action. The practice of deploying guards on board passenger and cargo ships must be expanded to cover more vessels. Training ships' crew on anti-piracy measures is also essential.
Shipping companies and maritime law enforcement agencies must periodically review the global piracy scenario in order to take urgent action to apprehend identified pirate gangs. Such a coordinated endeavour will make the seas much safer and facilitate smooth sailing for seafarers from around the world.
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