|Thursday, 18 November 2004|
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A challenge for the LTTE
In a move which should have effectively scotched all current rumours about the Government's approach to peace, President Kumaratunga has asked the LTTE if it is ready to resume peace talks with the Government in the course of this month.
It is up to the LTTE to respond positively to this fresh overture and press right ahead with the negotiatory process. Will it accept this challenge?
If it does, the Sri Lankan State could resume from where it was forced to leave off more than an year ago, when the LTTE pulled out of the peace process. If it doesn't, the LTTE would only have itself to blame for the stalemate which would persist in the peace effort.
The LTTE has time and again accused the Government of duplicity on the question of negotiating a peace settlement, thereby attempting to grab the moral highground in its stand off with the State.
If it is serious about pursuing peace, now is the time to prove it by cooperating with the Government and taking the peace process forward.
The interview with President Kumaratunga which we frontpaged on Wednesday, is significant for the clarifications put forward on the Government's position on a number of issues.
To begin with, the President was most unambiguous that any Lankan government would be for forging ahead with the peace process. Implied in this position is the belief that all governments would be shunning extremist, communalistic stances.
The UPFA Government is no exception to this rule. Pursuing peace, therefore, has become a cardinal policy of governments.
Besides, the UPFA Government is not averse to discussing the much talked of and debated ISGA issue.
However, the President makes it plain that this proposal should be discussed in depth with the Government and the interim administration which emerges should be acceptable to the Government also.
In other words, the Government wouldn't be approaching the talks with any preconceptions. Solutions, interim or otherwise, should be worked out consensually between the Government and the LTTE.
The President also made it clear that the federal option could provide the framework for talks. However, as discussed in Oslo, such power devolution schemes should be operational within a single, united Sri Lanka. The question of a separate state simply doesn't arise.
All this proves that the President is in earnest when she says that she is a true democrat who wouldn't want to wield unlimited authority. For, equality is the defining characteristic of democracy and the President is more than willing to give the minorities what is due to them.
Heavy burden off the roads
The mere presence of massive 18-wheelers on the roads is enough to drive fear into the hearts of other road users. But it is the roads that suffer the most as they speed along. Now the Transport Ministry has decided to remove certain categories of heavy vehicles from the roads to minimise the damage caused to the road network.
This is a commendable move by Transport Minister Felix Perera. The country's road network is already in a perilous state and ultra-heavy vehicles can only make it worse. Most 'B' roads are nearly impassable, what with tank-sized potholes all over. Heavy vehicles regularly use these roads, compounding the problem.
In addition to damaging the tarmac, heavy vehicles also cause traffic congestion. They take up a good part of the road, blocking other vehicles. They sometimes perform abrupt reversing/turning manoeuvres, blocking traffic for miles in either direction.
The reckless driving of these mechanical beasts also endangers the lives of other motorists and pedestrians. We have seen plenty of press reports on overturned container carriers and prime movers. This often results in the tragic loss of lives.
Earlier, these vehicles were allowed to ply only at night, but these rules seem to have been relaxed. Now they can be seen in Colombo, its suburbs and the main arterial roads at all hours. The rules regrading their hours of operation should be strictly enforced.
The authorities must also consider the possibility of starting a Road Fund, whereby a once-only levy is collected at the time of registration of a vehicle for road development and maintenance. This is a common practice in most European countries. The fee to be collected depends on the weight/engine capacity of the vehicle.
Our transport industry has not embraced rail freight, which is more economical and faster - there is no traffic congestion. Transporting cargo by train will hopefully take away more trucks from the roads, lightening the burden on them.
Trucks should be used mostly for routes where rail transport is not available. Promoting rail freight will also bring in more revenue to the cash-strapped railways.
The authorities must also consider the aspects of sound and air pollution. The import of used trucks and prime movers, some as old as seven years, should be discouraged. Brand new trucks are more environment-friendly, fuel-efficient and require less maintenance.
Concessions should be granted for their import and use. Rules and regulations on the use of heavy vehicles should be an integral part of a comprehensive national transport policy.
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