Post Conflict Development:
Efforts of a democracy
Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
Address by Rohitha Bogollagama, MP Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri
Lanka on Post Conflict Development: Efforts of a Democracy at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies, London on April 1.
Sri Lanka which has been known to travellers from Marco Polo to Ibn
Batuta and Mark Twain as a resplendent island and a meeting point
between East and West, has over the last 20 years been plagued by
conflict in its Northern and Eastern provinces, due to the activities of
a terrorist group, that has unleashed violence causing the death of over
We have faced terrible suicide bombings of civilian targets,
assassination of political leaders including my own predecessor the late
Lakshman Kadirgamar and former President Premadasa.
The people of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka in
particular, have been victims at the hands of this terrorist group, of
brutal massacres, ethnic cleansing, child conscription and constant
After nearly two decades, these terrorists who claim to represent the
Tamil community have achieved nothing tangible to have their grievances
addressed and only caused misery and hardship to the long suffering
people of these areas.
Significantly in Sri Lanka today over 53 per cent of the Tamil
population live in the South of the island side by side with the other
communities clearly reflecting our multicultural society.
Tamil is an official language in Sri Lanka and several of our
captains of businesses, people at the pinnacle of their professions in
the public and private sectors belong to the Tamil community.
It is logical to then question as to why anyone would need to resort
to such irrational violence in addressing any grievances this community
is perceived to have? Furthermore, would this terror group's ideology
and campaign for a separate state for the Tamils, who account for only
11 per cent of the population, address that community's concerns,
especially as it is not accepted as their sole representative?
There are those who talk of underlying causes of terrorism and
thereby try to give these perpetrators of violence some respectability
by claiming they are fighting for a noble cause. Take for instance the
issue of poverty. Now poverty by itself does not breed terrorism. The
vast majority of the poor never resort to terrorism.
Terrorists are those who exploit certain conditions. These conditions
are part of the matrix out of which terrorism grows. It does not follow
that terrorism is caused by these conditions.
In a study by Krueger and Maleckova published by the University of
Princeton, on "Does Poverty cause terrorism?", the report concludes that
'a careful review of the evidence provides little reason for optimism
that a reduction in poverty would by itself reduce international
terrorism'. You will recall the attackers of 9/11 were middle class and
reasonably well educated, in no desperate circumstances.
It is the sheer irrationality of terrorist violence which poses a
considerable challenge to democracies, such as ours. We offer to
negotiate, sit down at the table ready to discuss their grievances, but
they, unilaterally suspend talks and return to violence, as they have
used the negotiating period to regroup and re-arm. You enter into a
Ceasefire Agreement but they violate it so many times, it ends up
becoming a mere piece of paper.
When one looks at the Northern Ireland peace process, one realises
that despite the years of hostility, there was always that element of
posturing on the political issues which was possible via Sinn Fein,
eventually leading to the Good Friday Agreement. However, this is not a
universal model. Experts on terrorism talk of corrigible and
incorrigible terrorist groups. Actions of the LTTE, a terrorist group
operating in Sri Lanka, as at present, lead them into the latter
category. So what do we do?
In Northern Ireland at the height of the IRA insurgency, the UK
government launched a massive border surveillance force, terrorist
activists were arrested, interrogated and detained. Tough emergency laws
were enacted, including the setting up of the non-jury Diplock Courts
You may recall the judgement of the European Court of Human rights in
Dec. 1977 which ruled on the inhumane and degrading treatment of
terrorist suspects by the police in Northern Ireland.
Of course these measures have consequences for democracies such as
ours. But what do we do when faced with an intransigent challenge? As
democracies, we have a responsibility to protect our people from the
clutches of terrorists, even if we sometimes have to err on the side of
This may be an underlying reason for President Bush to recently clear
water boarding as a form of interrogation of suspects. When confronted
with a serial killer the first thing the police seek to do is to stop
the violence. Attempting to find out the causes or circumstances that
led to this person taking up serial killing comes later.
The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa took similarly a
realistic approach after being elected to power in 2005. The President
invited the LTTE to talks and concurrently convened an All Party
Conference to search for a political solution to address legitimate
grievances of the minority communities in our country.
But what happened? The LTTE came to the talks, refused to discuss
core political issues as it did on all previous occasions starting from
the Thimpu talks in 1985, and sought to posture on concessions that
would be militarily favourable to their terrorist designs.
They entered into a formal Ceasefire in 2002, violated it over 6500
times. Previous ceasefires which have been entered into by them have
ended with the LTTE reneging their undertaking by resorting to violent
actions of a grave magnitude.
In addition, they exploited the Ceasefire Agreement to infiltrate
into the high security zones in the east, as they did in Sampur, and
finally cut off the water supply to the villagers in that region.
In the face of such naked violence against innocent civilians could
we as a democratic government stand aside and watch our people being
subjected to cruel and inhuman violence?
Our Security Forces had to act swiftly to clear the eastern province
from the clutches of these terrorists. We did so with minimum civilian
casualties and that too as collateral. This brings me to the crux of my
presentation this afternoon, how do we conduct ourselves once an area
has been cleared of terrorist activity.
We may call this post conflict peace building or development.
Experiences in other parts of the world have shown, that even if a
conflict ends with the signing of a peace agreement, rather than as a
consequence of a military operation, as for instance it happened in
Northern Ireland, Peace agreements do not resolve conflicts - at best
they provide a framework, in which conflicting goals can be accommodated
and pursued by means other than violence. So how do we proceed with post
One of the foremost tasks is, the restoration of law and order and an
effective judicial system.
Coupled with this, an inclusive and democratic political process
including elections and the rebuilding of political institutions.
Elections are often considered the key criterion for democracy and
democratization and as such is synonymous with political liberalization.
The primary task of the institutions set up, is to create conditions
that are conducive to the success of a comprehensive programme of post
A key component of post conflict development also includes the
reintegration of former combatants and refugees into the economic
process. Although addressing people's basic needs for food, shelter and
medical care, the key challenge for governments and international donors
is not to fall into the trap of making people dependent on aid.
As soon as it is possible, funds should be channelled into programmes
that enable economic recovery. To put it simply, post conflict societies
benefit more from fishing rods than fish. Let me share with you the
experience of Sri Lanka, one of Asia's oldest democracies this process.
Today the clearance of the LTTE from the eastern province has enabled
civilians in the east, who had been subjugated by this terror group, to
enjoy the fruits of pluralistic democracy.
The Eastern province is a unique part of our country which is very
ethnically diverse, with an almost equal percentage of Sinhalese, Tamils
and Muslims. The Govt. of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has now launched
an ambitious rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement programme
appropriately entitled 're-awakening of the east' with considerable
allocation of funds from the national budget.
Already a vast majority of internally displaced persons have been
re-settled by the government with assistance from the UNHCR and other UN
bodies, the ICRC and several INGOs as well.
A few weeks ago we had local council elections in 9 local bodies with
wide participation by political parties in the Batticaloa district in
the East. The voter turnout was over 60 per cent demonstrating the
enthusiasm of the people and 101 members being elected to local bodies.
We are now preparing for the Provincial Council elections in May. The
people are now able to elect their leaders after an absence of nearly 14
We are now seeking to attract investors and tourists, who will help
create employment opportunities, and revive the economy in the eastern
province. During the years of conflict there has been a decline in the
traditional industries and economic activity in the East. This has been
exacerbated with low levels of inward and foreign direct investment,
resulting in high levels of unemployment.
We are now in the throes of addressing these issues pragmatically. I
must add here, that the international community must support more fully,
the re-development programme in the east.
It is true that several INGOs are substantially supporting the
development programmes, but we need to move rapidly to ensure the people
of this area, enjoy the peace dividend. Any financial support that is
made conditional will only deprive the people of these areas from
re-building their lost livelihoods.
A very significant aspect of this post conflict development programme
is, that a breakaway group of the LTTE, chose to enter the democratic
process by registering as a political party called the TMVP, and they
contested the recent local council elections fairing extremely well.
Of course the re-integration of a terrorist group into the democratic
mainstream is a difficult task, as experts on post-conflict
re-integration will acknowledge.
This cohort of young men whose skill had primarily been handling
weapons and engaging in criminal activities now need 'to turn their
swords into plough shares'. They will have to learn what it means to
accommodate others' views and work together. This is in our view will be
a tremendous achievement in post conflict development, of which we take
On the other hand the LTTE which of course refuses to participate in
democratic governance expectedly does not accommodate dissent, and will
seek to eliminate this breakaway group while labelling it a proxy of the
government. The LTTE's strategy of naming and shaming fits in with their
design of silencing dissent.
Therefore, security for elected representatives in the East remains a
priority for the government. You will recall however, when the Good
Friday agreement was negotiated in Belfast, the Sinn Fein position was
that 'if decommissioning were a pre-condition to joining the executive
that was something they could not accept'.
However, decommissioning did materialise in that process and it is
left to see if the LTTE would follow suit. As for the conduct in the
local government elections, independent observers have emphasised that
there was no evidence of intimidation of voters by this group. Elections
were largely free and fair. Another significant aspect of this
re-awakening process in the east, is the recent passing out of 175 Tamil
police officers from the Police Training College in Kallaidy, Batticaloa.
They will now be deployed in the East. Another 250 are to be
recruited soon. You will recall that even in the Northern Ireland peace
process, police reform was a significant aspect of the devolution
The government is taking action to devolve power under the 13th
amendment to the constitution which established the provincial councils.
Although the Provincial Council system was introduced in 1987, the
provisions of the act had not been fully implemented due to a lack of
will by successive governments to meaningfully devolve power.
However, President Rajapaksa who is committed to a political
solution, sought to have at the least the APRC's recommendation on this
system of devolution as an interim measure, and has even appointed a
Cabinet Sub Committee to explore ways and means for the implementation
of the provisions.
Might I add here, that the Provincial Councils system in Sri Lanka
provides for considerable devolution of power from the centre to the
province, in areas such as education, health care, land distribution,
roads and highways etc.
This should give a tremendous opportunity to the people living in
these provinces who were disadvantaged. In devolving power we need to
getaway from nomenclature such as unitary, federal etc and focus more on
devolution for development.
Powers devoted should empower provincial bodies to initiate
development programmes that directly benefit the people and the focus
should shift away from textbook models.
The APRC is continuing their deliberations on seeking cross party
consensus on further devolution, which is another component of our
democracy's post conflict development. I must seek to explain this
process to you.
Sri Lanka as a functioning democracy has a vibrant multiparty system
and elections are held on the basis of proportional representation.
So as you are already aware, no government in power since the
introduction of the 1978 constitution, has been able to obtain an
absolute majority in parliament.
Therefore, cross party consensus is imperative to move forward on the
devolution agenda. On the other hand, any devolution that is offered by
steam rolling without wide consensus is unlikely to benefit the people.
The main reason why the provincial council system has not been fully
implemented after over 20 years of its introduction, is because it was
introduced under a cloud of controversy, and without wide discussion.
President Rajapaksa has been wise and far sighted to realise this.
Therefore, any attempt to rush through devolution proposals within a
fixed time frame will be counter productive.
It is important that the international community takes a realistic
view of this situation and understands the ground realities, dictated
considerably by political challenges. What is important is, the
Government's commitment to the process of devolution, and those sincere
friends of the international community, must assist objectively in
manoeuvring the arduous path.
The Government is confident that the day will soon dawn when the
civilians in the districts of the Northern province will also be able to
experience the pluralistic political culture that is being restored in
the Eastern province. It is towards this end, that the limited military
operations are being conducted.
To those critics of the Government policy who argue that it is a
military solution that is being pursued, - from what I have enumerated
earlier, will exemplify the commitment to address the grievances of all
minority communities in our country.
However, this commitment to a political process does not imply
appeasement of terror. I have just outlined to you how the clearance of
the LTTE from the East is transforming the lives of people and restoring
the democratic processes.
At this point I wish to recall British Foreign Secretary Miliband,
who a few days ago at the launch of the FCO's 2007 Human Rights report
stated that, "military victories never provide solutions, but they can
provide the space for political and economic solutions to be found. And
without military power, the result can be more bloodshed." I believe
this mirror images the Sri Lanka Government's policy on the conflict.
Whilst our Government seeks to do its utmost to eliminate terrorism
and ensure the well-being of our people gravely affected by this menace,
I wish to emphasise that the desire for peace is not solely on the part
of the Government; it is the desire of the entire nation especially the
many thousands of people caught up daily in the cross-fire of war.
The Government therefore has the inherent right to protect and
safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and
liberate the innocent peace loving Tamil people who have been held
captive by the LTTE, and even been forced to part with their children,
whom they forcibly conscript into their movement.
The characteristic of the LTTE has been its unchanging agenda of
totalitarian power, rejection of political pluralism and the rule of
law, and its lack of concern for the people caught up in the conflict.
Contrary to the LTTE propaganda it is the government that provides and
distributes food, medical aid, shelter, and education through our local
authorities with the assistance of non-governmental organizations to all
peoples in the North and East, and this too, despite numerous obstacles.
It was not too long ago, that the LTTE attacked a privately owned
ship which was unloading Government food supplies at a harbour in the
North. On another occasion they shut the entry points at Omanthai from
where food convoys move into uncleared areas.
This demonstrates the LTTE's callous disregard for the people in a
region, they are fighting for supremacy.
The government however, remains committed to protect its people, and
keep hoping for that day, where the LTTE would renounce violence and
enter the democratic path.
Text book theories on negotiating peace cannot be applied
arbitrarily. Sophisticated peace deals brokered by a most powerful world
power the USA, such as the Norwegian initiated Oslo Agreement, between
Israel's Labour government and the PLO leadership, carried all the
classic features of an elite peace deal.
However, it failed due to the absence of a political dialogue between
the Likhud and the Labour parties, and because core-issues were left to
the final stage of negotiations; a very similar parallel to our 2002 CFA
and talks which ensued.
We all know the consequences - Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated
and at the subsequent elections the Opposition party campaigning on an
anti-peace platform came to power.
Therefore violent conflicts such as ours cannot be resolved hastily.
It is for this reason that President Mahinda Rajapaksa after his
election to power in November 2005 summoned an All Party Conference to
seek the views of all political parties with the view to developing a
broad consensus on the devolution of power.
Whatever steps are taken by our Government to seek to address the
grievances of all communities, as has been outlined by me, it will be
difficult to persuade the LTTE to transform itself into a political
organisation and seriously engage in negotiations as long as it
continues to fundraise abroad. It is here that the role of the
international community becomes crucial. The LTTE's criminal activity
has transgressed our national boundaries.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London in its
publication 'Military Balance' refers to commercial links between the
LTTE and the al-Qaeda movement. In fact there is evidence that the LTTE
established linkages with the Mujahiddins in Afghanistan as far back as
There is further proof to establish that even in 2001 an LTTE
delegation travelled to Kabul shortly before nine eleven. India's
National Security Adviser in a speech at the Munich Conference on
Security Policy last year informed that both, Jihadi movements and the
LTTE, were relying heavily on funds from trafficking in narcotics which
has doubled in recent years.
The LTTE with its fleet of merchant vessels run by front
organisations and established presence in the arms black market have
been providing mercenary services, as well as training to several other
terrorist groups around the world.
It has pioneered the appalling art of suicide bombing long before the
In fact the al-Qaeda attack on the 'USS Cole' in Yemen in October
2000 bore identical resemblance to the LTTE attack on a Sri Lankan naval
vessel off the northern coast of Sri Lanka two months before. The
precision and targeting of the hull by al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen was
almost identical to the strategy used by the LTTE sea tigers in that
In countries such as the UK where the LTTE raises a bulk of its
finances, the fundraising has graduated from mere extortion from the
Tamil diaspora and cultural and charity events to commercial activities.
Its links to telecom services through preferred calling cards, credit
card frauds especially at petrol stations and news agencies run by their
operatives, money transfer agencies, registered charities and companies
that operate under various deceptive names are being investigated. The
magnitude of the LTTE's fund collection is evidenced in Jane's
Intelligence Review where it reported that the LTTE makes US$ 70 million
profit per annum.
The very fact of its air capability with two light aircraft and a
glider which have been used for attacking government installations,
demonstrates the solvency of this terror group.
Our government remains strongly committed to bring peace and
stability to Sri Lanka which is so vital for our economic growth. We
have been viewed as country with tremendous potential for rapid growth
Despite the conflict our economy has grown steadily and maintained a
growth rate of over 6 per cent during the last five years.
The end of this senseless conflict could give tremendous
opportunities. Currently the per capita income in the district of
Colombo is, 7 times what it is in some of the remoter regions including
the north and east. We are confident that the eastern province will now
begin to reap the fruits of rapid economic growth and seek to bring a
better balance of the region's per capita.
At the same time we need to appreciate the ground realities that
democracies have to face in implementing changes, be they constitutional
amendments or most simple development programmes.
In a democracy such as ours with a system of proportional
representation which does not give any one political party a clear
majority the task is fraught with difficulties.
Building cross party consensus particularly in the more volatile
political environment in our part of the world is no easy task. When the
Good Friday Agreement was signed, the UK government at the time had the
clear support of the opposition as we all know.
They viewed the whole issue as a national priority, rather than from
a politically partisan position. This is not how it always works for us
and this has to be taken into account. So, we should not be unrealistic
in our expectations of change overnight. As a democracy we have certain
limitations. We cannot steam role to ushering changes.
What I have tried to outline to you are the efforts we in Sri Lanka
have made as a democracy, notwithstanding these constraints to bring the
dividend of peace to our people.
It is important that the international community takes cognisance of
these challenges faced by democracies such as ours.