|Saturday, 8 May 2004|
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Setting the correct tone for peace
At a time when a renewed effort is under way to end the ethnic conflict in this country, President Kumaratunga's call to end communal violence, which claims lives through minor incidents, is both inspiring and elevating. It sets the tone for the conduct of public affairs in this country and establishes the standards for friction-free living.
The President's words emerge against the backdrop of the recent clashes in Kandapola which claimed two lives.
These were unfortunate developments which should never have occurred but it is worth recollecting that we have not had large-scale communal clashes in this country since 1994, when President Kumaratunga came to power, backed firmly by a huge popular yearning for ethnic peace.
The race riots of 1983 which shook Sri Lanka as never before and proved a crucial turning-point in this country's post-independence history, were orchestrated by the then government and contrast strikingly with the period 1994 to 2001, when President Kumaratunga successfully kept the country free of communal violence.
In the 1983 inferno, the UNP government of the times was no neutral onlooker. It was a party to the ethnic holocaust because it played a significant role in triggering it off.
For instance, homes and hearths were devastated in some areas and put to the torch systematically by rampaging mobs displaying voter lists. Sections of the law enforcers too looked the other way when life and limb were harmed and Tamil properties were ruthlessly but systematically pillaged.
The then Head of State addressed the "nation" only some four days into the riots when most of the monstrous work was done. A case of Nero fiddling, while Rome was burning.
All this may be dismissed as history by some but they need to be etched in the collective memory of the rulers and the people if we are to get on with the task of peace-making and single out the factors which have precipitated ethnic violence in this country.
The bad example of the UNP years and the good example of President Kumaratunga teaches us that the prime mover of peace is the Lankan State. For her positive role, President Kumaratunga earns the respect of the communities of this country.
However, much remains to be achieved and the President has set the overall tone for the establishment of peace by renouncing ethnic violence and setting the stage once again for ethnic peace building. The prime policy in this context should be 'no' to ethnic discord and the country's foremost political leader has fearlessly expressed this sentiment.
Produced by Lake House