|Saturday, 19 June 2004|
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Vital assurance on peace
The statement by Government spokesman and Media and Information Minister Mangala Samaraweera, reiterating the Government's commitment to a just peace, should have a reassuring impact on the people and set the record straight on the intentions of the Government.
This comes at a time when the opposition is making a desperate attempt to confuse the people on the Government's aims and objectives.
All too soon, the UNF seems to have forgotten that it was a dismal failure at peace-making - its series of highly-publicized meetings with the Tigers having drawn a blank.
All too soon the UNF also seems to have forgotten that a negotiated settlement of the conflict is a complex chess-board that requires judicious, patient, well-thought out moves which have their origins in deep forethought.
Now, however, we have it on the authority of Minister Samaraweera that the Government is singleminded in its intention of bringing peace to Sri Lanka and that it is the Government's principal agenda.
Besides, the Minister has made the important clarification that the proposed negotiations with the Tigers would be "inclusive, prudent and transparent and not be exclusive, secretive, as it was done by the previous government."
It is now undisputed that the talks by the former government failed to deliver the desired results on account of its inability to be inclusive and transparent.
Important stakeholders in the peace effort, like the President and some affected parties, were not included in the negotiatory process. This deeply affected the consensus-forming process, which is so vital to the formulation of a just solution.
Besides, the talks lacked transparency and the people were kept in the dark about the progress or otherwise of the negotiations. Hopefully, this time round, these limitations would be overcome and the talks carried out in a way that would meet the standards of consensuality and transparency.
However, as pointed out by Minister Samaraweera, both parties to the conflict would need to exercise a degree of flexibility if the negotiations are to be launched and taken to their logical conclusion.
While it is true that the immediate, pressing needs of the North-East populace need to be met through an appropriate administrative mechanism, the all important task of arriving at a final solution to the conflict too should not be forgotten.
The intended negotiatory process should encapsulate both these aims, if substantial progress is to be made in the peace endeavour.
Accordingly, the main parties to the conflict would need to approach their task in a spirit of compromise and understanding. One needs to appreciate and understand the others point of view.
World Refugees Day
As they say, there is no place like home. Home is where the heart is, but for 17 million people worldwide it has become a distant place. As the world re-evaluates the plight of these refugees tomorrow, World Refugees Day, we should ponder deeply on UN's Secretary General Kofi Annan's assertion that "a spirit of generosity is needed from the international community if we are to succeed in giving millions of refugees a place to call home".
The problem of refugees (those who have fled to other countries) and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is not new to Sri Lanka, which has experienced two decades of internal strife. Thousands of Lankan refugees live in India, while there are more than 370,000 IDPs.
Globally and locally, several conditions have to be met before the displaced can return home. Their native places must be peaceful and devoid of the remnants of war such as landmines before the refugees and IDPs can return home. They should have infrastructure and social facilities conducive to their return.
This is the very basis of this year's World Refugees Day, which is being marked under the theme "A Place to Call Home".
Amid the flight from conflict and persecution, in the tent cities of refugee camps and during the wait in unbearable uncertainty to see what the future will hold, it is a refugee's most cherished dream to return home and live in dignity and security, says Secretary General Annan.
Although 1.1 million refugees returned home last year, the process of resettlement is fraught with many challenges. Conflicts in their home countries must cease before they can safely return home. But for some, home will remain only a memory.
For them, according to UNHCR, the solution is either integration in countries of first asylum or resettlement in a third country where they can restart their lives.
Experts have expressed a similar solution for some of the IDPs here who may not be able to resettle in their own areas - relocating elsewhere or integrating into the community in which they are displaced.
Needless to say, this needs a measure of understanding and generosity from the host community. The UN advocates a "spirit of generosity and sustained support" from the global community for giving the millions of refugees a place to call home. When each refugee can finally call his adopted country or region "home", the world will be nearer to a solution to this serious problem.
Produced by Lake House