|Monday, 01 November 2004|
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Taking the peace process forward
President Kumaratunga's reassuring words to visiting Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi that peace talks should begin soon, establishes the bona fides of the Government as regards the peace process.
These words should also have the effect of raising the hopes of the public that a concerted and consistent effort would be made by the Lankan State to take the peace process forward.
Coupled with these encouraging words by the President comes the news that the first meeting of the National Advisory Committee for Peace and Reconciliation's (NACPR) Political Committee would be held today followed subsequently by meetings of the Religious Committee and Civil Society Committee.
We are of the opinion that the formal peace process should be resumed with utmost speed with talks between the Government and the LTTE taking pride of place in this effort, but it is also of vital importance that every effort is made to arrive at the hitherto elusive Southern consensus on a solution.
This is where the NACPR could prove its worth. While the fundamental terms of peace should be thrashed out between the government and the LTTE, Southern opinion in particular should be receptive to these terms which would invariably involve the empowerment of minorities within a united and geographically intact Sri Lanka.
Here's usually where the rub is. Most sections are enthusiastic about peace and are thankful for the continuing ceasefire but tend to be apprehensive about some of the gut issues in the peace process.
The empowerment of minorities is one of these. As we see it, there is no ducking the issue of granting a degree of empowerment if the ethnic issue is to be resolved peacefully. After all, the ethnic conflict is all about power or the lack of it.
The fundamental premise, however, on which peace needs to be built is the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. On this issue, the Southern public, at least, is agreed. On other finer issues a Southern consensus needs to be built and this task could be achieved by the NACPR, if all goes well.
Past peace efforts foundered largely because the Lankan body politic was unprepared for the crucial terms of making peace. Power devolution, for instance, which is a perfectly democratic exercise is still being seen by some as a stepping-stone to a separate state.
Such misleading notions must be proved as being without a basis and it is in tasks such as these that the NACPR could prove its worth. The South - in particular - should, ideally, be in one mind on peace. This climate of opinion needs to be built.
Whales are the biggest animals on Earth. Graceful and alluring, whales have become a big tourist attraction in all the places they frequent. Sri Lanka has a special place in whale lovers' hearts thanks to Trincomalee, known as the Whale Capital of the World.
The East also has an abundance of elephants, another big hit with tourists. An area which can offer both these attractions has the potential to become a major tourism hot spot.
The Government is planning to promote 'the place where elephants meet whales' as a major tourist draw. The City and the port, the biggest natural harbour in the world after Sydney, will be developed up to international standards. It will also become the place for conducting whale research.
The Cabinet has already approved a paper submitted by Tourism and Investment Promotion Minister Anura Bandaranaike on the Trincomalee development project. Ecotourism, land and sea management, community development, wildlife and nature conservation and maritime activity management will be included in the plan.
The proposed plan includes an international scientific research centre, ecotourism resorts and hotels, nature reserves, aquatic parks based on the 'ridge to reef' concept, shopping malls and theme parks.
This is good news for Trinco in particular and the Eastern Province in general, emerging from the wounds of war. With the ceasefire in place, local and foreign tourists are flocking to Trincomalee in large numbers. Domestic flights have re-commenced to this Eastern city, giving affluent locals and foreigners an opportunity to savour its many delights without any travel travails.
Focusing on ecotourism will boost these tourist numbers further. Whales and elephants, coupled with the area's natural and historical attractions, will indeed be a big draw. A modern passenger terminal at the Trinco port will enable cruise ships to dock there, opening yet another avenue to boost tourist numbers.
International hotel chains should also be invited to build resorts in Trincomalee. Local travellers must not be forgotten - there should be more hotels and rest houses with a reasonable fee structure. Improving the transport and telecommunications network in Trincomalee and the Eastern Province is also essential.
Preserving the serenity and environment of Trincomalee should be a priority. The Trinco beaches are still unpolluted for the most part and they should remain that way. It would be a pity if this aspect is neglected in the development plans.
The rest of the Eastern Province should be developed concurrently. Batticaloa, Arugam Bay, Passikudah and several other areas have their own unique claims to fame. A tourism promotion campaign that highlights the beauty of the Eastern Province should be launched. Permanent peace will make the East even more accessible and tranquil.
Produced by Lake House