|Friday, 12 November 2004|
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President Kumaratunga and national progress
As President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga notches ten years as the President and Head of Government of Sri Lanka, the peace hopes of the people of Sri Lanka remain high, although the formal peace process remains to be resumed.
At the time of writing, three Norwegian peace envoys are in Sri Lanka, in a renewed effort to kickstart the stalled peace exercise. It is significant that they were to establish contact with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Ten years into power, President Kumaratunga remains the single, most popular political leader of the country. It will be recalled that when she was resoundingly voted into office in 1994, besides establishing a record as the presidential candidate in post independence Lankan history who polled the most number of votes, she brought in new, transformative thinking on the country's ethnic conflict.
In fact, her election in 1994 and her subsequent re-election a few years later, could be considered massive popular re-affirmations of President Kumaratunga's peace agenda. In broad outline, this peace agenda envisaged the resolution of the ethnic conflict by political means and its recognition as an ethnic rather than a terrorist problem.
The policy parameter which has flown from this premise and which is still being adhered to is that the legitimate aspirations of the minorities of this country should be met within the framework of a united, geographically intact Sri Lanka. This has helped win over the moderate majority.
It is the consistent proclamation of this policy by the President which has helped considerably in blocking the advance of communalistic forces. In fact, it is not by accident that we have had no ethnic riots since 1994.
The reason is because communal forces have been denied the opportunity of taking root and growing. Accordingly, we urge the President to do everything within her power to relaunch the peace process and take it to its logical conclusion.
Meanwhile, every effort has been made to impart an essentially social-democratic identity to the Lankan State. While no effort is being made to stymie private economic enterprise, the poorest of the poor are having their pressing needs fulfilled by the Samurdhi Authority, which is keeping our welfarist foundation intact.
It is encouraging to note that education is remaining a pet concern of the President. Hopefully, her educational reforms would lay the foundation for a younger generation which would meet the country's numerous manpower needs and be a strong asset to Sri Lanka.
We warmly congratulate the President on giving prominence to also moral values in the educational reforms program. In fact, the proposal to make moral values a school subject is a step in the right direction.
On the law and order front, much remains to be done, but we call on the President to be unrelenting in her effort to enthrone the Rule of Law in this country. No quarter should be given to those seeking to undermine law and order and subvert the course of justice.
Nature at work
We regularly come across the expression 'dead as a dodo'. This signifies that something is very dead or extinct. But the world has nearly forgotten the moa, the biggest flightless bird that ever roamed the Earth. The moa is also as 'dead as a dodo'.
Legend has it that the ostrich-like creature skipped around happy, free and populous in the Land of the Long White Cloud - "Aotearoa," the Maori name for New Zealand.
Then, one fateful day some 700 years ago, the first humans arrived. The settlers found the wingless bird easy to kill and, at up to 3.5 metres tall and 250 kilos in weight, a good source of meat. Within a couple of centuries, the humans had hunted the hapless feathery giant to extinction.
This is the most popular theory that explains the extinction of the moa. But can Man always be blamed for the extinction of animal and plant species ? Does not natural selection play a role in deciding which species survive and which do not? These are among the questions raised by a new study on the extinction of species.
The new research by Neil Gemmell of New Zealand's University of Canterbury and his team of molecular sleuths raises big doubts about the popular parable, for it questions whether the human settlers were so catastrophically to blame for the moa's extinction.
The moa, it suggests, was already sharply in decline before humans arrived, and was deeply vulnerable even before the first spear was thrown.
It is likely that, between 1,000 and 6,000 years ago, there were typically between three million and 12 million moas on New Zealand's North and South Islands. That compares with a moa population estimated at a paltry 159,000 at the time when humans first set foot on Aotearoa in 1280.
Gemell has found compelling evidence that Nature, not Man, was the culprit. Volcanic eruptions had repeatedly wiped out local moa communities. Moa numbers have also been ravaged by epidemics of disease, such as avian flu, salmonella or tuberculosis, brought by migrating birds from Australia.
The new study shows that Nature is always at work. The dinosaurs were wiped out long before Man evolved and countless other species have disappeared forever over millions of years. Even today, diseases such avian flu are threatening not only bird species but also mammals.
Climate change has the potential to wipe out thousands more species as temperatures rise in various parts of the world. Man himself is under threat as climatic shifts could eventually result in a Great Ice Age, submerging whole cities.
Some would argue that studying the past would serve no purpose. But we can gain a greater insight into modern conservation problems from the lessons of the past.
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