Geneva 2 and the challenge of peace
Geneva Talks: Whatever the outcome of the current round of
Geneva Talks between the Government and the LTTE, the question should
not be as to who can win the war in Sri Lanka, whether it is one of low
or high intensity. The Government's commitment to a negotiated
settlement of the long drawn out conflict, demonstrates its abhorrence
of violence, and appreciation of the need to usher in peace through
dialogue and understanding.
However, there is another important question that many seek to
ignore. It is the situation of the Tamil people. When can they find an
end to their woes, and more importantly, when will they begin to live in
peace, together as one people with the others for whom Sri Lanka is
The key to this is whether the LTTE can extricate itself from the
situation of violence and confrontation it has put itself into, and give
more thought to the suffering it has caused to the Tamil people, whom it
claims to liberate.
The absence of a settlement of the issue through negotiation no doubt
haunts the Tamil people, much more than it worries the other ethnic
groups in Sri Lanka. It appears that for all the bravado of the LTTE,
seen in its many statements about achieving its goal of Eelam, it is
hoping to weary the Government through a prolonged war, in the hope that
the tide of world opinion will turn in its favour.
It is important that the LTTE is made aware that this is a wholly
unrealistic expectation, and does not do any good to the Tamil people.
Separation is not a topic for discussion. However long the armed
conflict may drag, no government in Sri Lanka will be able to agree to
help the LTTE achieve this goal. That is the reality the LTTE has to be
factored into all its strategies in dealing with the Sri Lankan
The current round of talks takes place in the context of a new
political development in the South. The understanding between the SLFP
and UNP, given shape in the MoU signed by the two parties, brings a
change to the scenario of negotiation and the search for a solution to
the long burning crisis.
If the commitment of the two main political parties in the country to
work towards reaching a negotiated solution as promised by the MoU
remains firm, we will see a departure from the politics of recrimination
and cheap scoring of political points that has bedeviled this issue for
Going by the experience of the Tamil people and their political
parties since 1957, the LTTE has repeatedly stated it cannot place its
trust in any pledge given by a government in office, as the next
government would not abide by the agreements reached by the former,
especially in the area of ethnic relations. There is now the hope that
this is a thing of the past.
The coming together of the SLFP and UNP in a new resolve to find
solutions to key issues acceptable to both parties, should take the
earlier fear away from the LTTE and the Tamil people. It is pointless
discussing today as to how Liam Fox failed or the failure of PTOMS.
There is now a new beginning, initiated by the President himself and
supported by the Leader of the Opposition. The success of this new
understanding will also depend on the LTTE's own re-assessment of
developments in the South, instead of sticking to its long held
What is needed today is a strategy for disengagement by both sides.
No doubt this will also mean an honourable disengagement. President
Mahinda Rajapaksa, true to his pledge during the Presidential Election,
has walked more than the proverbial mile, in seeking an understanding
with his main political rival in the South. This shows his willingness
to walk even further in the search for a genuine and lasting peace,
which will be good for both the North and the South.
The need for peace
Although we are all opposed to terrorism and violence, terrorism is
certainly not the tree to be barking up just now. This is the time to
look at a more conciliatory approach in the true spirit of conflict
The Sri Lankan negotiators are not unaware of the LTTE's past and its
continuing commitment to terror. Yet, they face a daunting task of
trying to extract the maximum possible in areas that point towards peace
and mutual understanding.
Rigidity of approach, whether encouraged by journalists, commentators
or political parties that have their own agenda, is not the substance of
negotiation, which is more concerned with a policy of give and take.
It may be a clich today, yet what is very much needed just now is a
road map to peace in Sri Lanka. We need to clear the path to peace,
though the All Party Conference, the Committee of Experts, and the
organizations of civil society that are genuinely interested in peace,
rather than those that bandy the word for profit or other ends.
Peace is needed not just for development and economic growth, which
are not bad goals. It is needed even more to overcome the many crises
that Sri Lankan society face, in a galloping rate of violence, the
disregard for law and order, the erosion of traditional values, and the
overall breakdown of the social fabric. The country and people are
urgently in need of a path of restoration from all the tragedy of the
past several decades of division, mistrust and violence.
If the current round of talks in Geneva can begin paving the way for
that to open that road to peace, it would have achieved much more than
expected. It is for this that the good wishes of the people will be with
both delegations meeting in Geneva.
Reporters without borders
Reporters sans Frontieres (RsF) or Reporters without Borders, the
Paris-based organization the monitors press freedom and the threats to
journalists is a well-known name in the field of media freedom. It has
often been forthright in its condemnation of threats to media freedom
and dangers faced by journalists.
However, in the matter of the recent transfer of the Editor of the
Sunday Observer, RsF uncharacteristically showed that it had scant
regard for the ethics of journalism itself, and propriety, in issuing a
statement in the matter.
In a statement issued on October 17, RsF sought to drag President
Mahinda Rajapaksa into the issue involving the transfer of the Editor of
the Sunday Observer. The Rsf statement said: "Instead of sidelining
critical editorialists, the President should concentrate on taking
measures to resolve the serious crisis sweeping Sri Lanka and to ensure
the safety of the media, which have repeatedly been the target of
It was necessary to point out to Rsf that President Mahinda Rajapaksa
was in no way interested in the transfer of the Editor of the Sunday
Observer, and also that the President of Sri Lanka did not want
gratuitous advice from it on matters of governance.
The response from the Presidential Secretariat said: "President
Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has not been in any way interested in the
transfer of the Editor of the Sunday Observer from his post. This is a
matter wholly within the purview of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon
Ltd., the publishers of the Sunday Observer.
Any suggestion or imputation that President Rajapaksa was in any way
responsible for the transfer of Abeynayake from his position in the
Sunday Observer is wholly unjustified and not borne out by facts.
President Rajapaksa does not require gratuitous advice from Reporters
without Borders on what requires his concentration in the political
developments in Sri Lanka and how he should resolve political issues in
this country, including ensuring the safety of the media."
The response added: "It is regretted that Reporters without Borders
has thought it fit to issue this statement, which refers to the
President, without verifying the relevant facts about the matter at
issue from this office. This cannot be too much to expect of an
organization concerned with safeguarding press freedom."
Seeking to uphold press freedom is one thing, but even international
organizations that are active in this field should know the importance
of verifying its facts before issuing a statement.
RsF had a reply from the Chairman of ANCL too, on the same matter, to
the effect it had not bothered to verify the facts of the matter with
him. It was a pathetic response that RsF gave regretting being unable to
contact either the Chairman or anyone else from the Lake House
management to obtain their view on the issue.
Here's hope that such well known organizations observe the basic
decency or verifying one's facts and also not being too niggardly in
apologizing when their error is pointed out.