In 1983, on July 23, at around 11a.m, the writer heard the sound of crackling glass, a van, with school children, had been set on fire in front of Sukhastan Gardens on Ward Place. The driver ran into the writer’s house, clambered over the short boundary wall and ran into a private hospital with a screaming mob chasing him in his wake, into the hospital, on the same aerial route of going over the wall! The children probably ran elsewhere. Sri Lanka has not looked back since.
The country has seen internal displacement, refugees, assassinations, bomb blasts, massacres, lulls in fighting , provincial councils, military operations, security zones, a cease-fire, rounds of negotiations, and current anxieties.
We had, estimatedly, destroyed close upon 270,000 houses in the North east. The tsunami took away approximately 98,000.The latter is fully funded. The former has about 40,000 funded! To tide over time and money, people have been given temporary shelter, they are at best cadjan huts or half walled open structures. The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) brought promise of dealing with all the conflict losses, until Tokyo, when the LTTE stopped traveling and with that the peace talks under Ranil ceased. GL was, evidently, on the verge of meeting Balasingham in early 2003, when Chandrika decided to take matters into her hands. In the interim, Bernard and his colleagues had many an interesting dialogue with civil types, in the midst of occasionally sinking ships, boats, arms caches and what not, which mysteriously lessened, no sooner Chandrika took over. Jayantha took over SCOPP and accidentally, had tea with Pulee. Previously, it was not difficult for both peace secretariats to phone each other. When the East was on fire recently, we had to rely on the facilitators and the SLMM to pass messages!
Recent events in Trincomalee had echoes to the chilling events of July 83. Lawlessness, Colombo having to send senior officials and officers, because the people on the ground could not temper feelings of nationalism with the necessity of ensuring the rule of law was maintained. During the New Year in April, over a period of four hours frantic efforts by concerned individuals, succeeded in securing safety for 200 frightened persons sheltering in a church. Many frightened persons elsewhere could not be reached, nor was their plight known, nor did they receive assured security when they needed it most.
What of the humanitarians? A bulk of the agencies are not equipped to work in conflict conditions. They have gone into preparedness and evacuation mode. A few are all weather types. Courageous individuals from civil society, did express themselves candidly, conveyed important information to the very few in Government who were accessible and able to make a difference. They showed willingness to stand firm for peace at all costs and speak plainly to both Government and the LTTE, at the risk of physical harm. We have civic leaders. The critique about them include marketing suffering of others, Colombo based international travellers, bookish, egoists seeking a Nobel, threat to national security, clubbish, English speaking and hardly representative of the interests of those whose cause they espouse. The missing component is persons who represent those who are directly affected and resident in those areas.
The diplomats. Development partners meet, as a practice, amongst themselves very regularly. There are no nationals present. Peter and Sandro continue their efforts beyond the call of duty. Miguel is not far behind. Other types of gatherings include the one text. Some work 8 days (including part of their sleep times). The co-chairs are held together by modest common agreements. The US, with India, wield the most influence on any government of the day.
Influencing the LTTE has always and continues to be elusive.
It is in the climate one looks at the pursuit of peace. There seems to be a line in Colombo which believes being firm and aggressive with the LTTE would bring dividends. The LTTE plays to set the agenda. Both proved after Geneva 1, their ability to reign in aberrations which violated the CFA. Both have contributed to the violation of the CFA as well! One may argue that the LTTE have higher hits on the CFA. Will we get to discussing the famous core issues? Be they local government, without battling the contours of interim arrangements or, federal or god forbid, confederal options. When one cannot agree to either, take a 688, seaplane,chopper,boats etc, when we get to core issues would be interesting to watch.
What of the people. Immense volumes of paper have been dispensed with, in documenting multiple displacement, missing (there was a Jaffna family, poor but, very welcoming. The man worked for SLBC. He was everybody’s friend. That was his folly. He was picked up at 5 p.m. on Jawatte Road off his bike. He never came back. His wife gave birth later. The child did not and cannot see his father), torture, mine infested fields, livelihood lost, misery of widowhood, trauma of watching the horrors of war, massacres, (one week after a massacre, which was retaliatory to another massacre, 180 people were chopped up, pieces of brain were still on the wall, the blood had not dried and wobbled like jelly for the wind, a young mother cradling a baby was looking at what was left of her house in the blazing morning sun, since she had fled after the massacre, the house had been stripped of its fittings by outlying villagers), the disabled, flight out of the country (in cash and carry, employment in London, washing windows in Paris, at the bus station in front of Cornavin station, Geneva, hiding from Interior departments in Europe, appealing deportation, to name a few) etc .
DBS in Canada. He spent time on the 4th floor, because he dared to write of the IPKF exploits, when fighting began in ‘87. Journalism without borders in SL, exists? Can we seriously address these issues in a manner which heals the wounds and scars, help rebuild broken lives, families, communities? CBK asked David, Tara, Hiranthi, Jeevan, Lanka, Dudley, Obadage, Christie, Kalhari to design healing. She liked it. In 1987, some of the finest individuals in public service after independence, came together, to run the NE provincial administration. Some are still around. Charitha, Brad, Austin and Paski attempted to do similar things recently. Selvin would sleep in his vehicle through the night, while his driver would take him from district to district, for the next days meeting on behalf of SIHRN. Lalith is trying now. Saliya has an unenviable task of charting a liberal path of recovery. Ganesh is in Jaffna, Lanka soldiers on in Trinco. So does Rangarajah.
Do we have multi ethnic sensitivities guiding policy, who will implement? Nivaard? Recent draft legislation expressly walks to end displacemnt. De-mining has worked diligently and professionally. Full funding on line remains an unmet need for all of post conflict recovery. A predictable environment which, on the one hand, as said by Dr. Jayasundare, enables 7% growth in 2006, whilst being free of risk status in terms of global risk assessment, achievable?
Can we seriously address these issues in a non conflictual manner? Is there enough of communication to allow for such dialogue to take place? If the Government and the LTTE were to sit as equals around any table, would questions of status and ‘parties’ follow? How can resolutions and concessions be given if, status of parties becomes an issue? Can the President team up with political combination, which allow for liberal dialogue? Will Ranil speak to MR if he feels robbed lately. What is the win win where the SLFP and the UNP gains, whilst the country, as a whole, gains too. Can the occupants, ferried by BMW’s, Volvos, the occasional Mercedes supported by Toyotas and Defenders, find ways to design and configure lasting solutions which can hold. Will the LTTE wait that long? In the interim, will the Government continue to pursue strategies which strive to weaken or decimate the LTTE in some manner, while the LTTE waits to make dramatic gains? Do civil society actors have the courage and conviction to call a spade and demand the parties work to preserve lives and the future of the country? On the other hand, can we carry on with a war of attrition, which maintains the no war - no peace status quo but does little more?
Funny, how since 58’, every round of negotiations has to look at bigger solutions ( B-C,D-C, DDC, PC, Federal, ISGA, and ….). Have not the killers and practices of the past, not begun visiting us lately…Uthayan press, Jaffna, tonight….? Will the LTTE, during Prabhakarans time, want to strive, to achieve nationhood, if they feel the South will not and cannot really reconfigure the State, for asymmetrical devolution..
A child of 10 now, what country would he or she inherit if, the country was not at peace. The children who ran out of the van down Ward Place in 1983, would be in their twenties if not thirties and the country is still at war! Most may not even be in the country. What have we done, do we know or, are the horrors of recent history too much for us to honestly address? [Source: Daily Mirror]