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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peace: the mission begins

Daily Mirror: 20 / 05/2009, By Kusal Perera
There were genuine grievances in the Tamil community that led to the Tamil political struggle. However even when most of those grievances were addressed later, the LTTE became the stumbling block in reaching national reconciliation. Prabhakaran hijacked the Tamil political struggle and became the problem than being the solution.
Although the Sri Lankan constitution does not discriminate between the communities and there is no legally institutionalized racism in Sri Lanka, there are many practical problems and instances of marginalization faced by the Tamil community. The implementation of the language policy is one classic example. There are many instances when government offices send out letters, documents and notices to the public in Sinhala only. These practical issues should be immediately addressed. Also a major attitudinal change within the Sinhala community about the rich diversity of the Sri Lankan culture and heritage that has been nourished through the ages by cross cultural influences should be brought about. The state media should be utilized to integrate the nation and not to polarize the country on ethnic, religious and political lines. The President will have to address these concerns with utmost urgency.
The security forces under the joint politico-military leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka have accomplished the task of ensuring the territorial integrity of the country by militarily defeating the separatist terrorist organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
With the elimination of the entire top level leadership of the Tigers the military strength of the LTTE that plagued the country with terrorism over the last three decades has been stemmed.
Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka have achieved the task they set about three years ago to completely rid the country of LTTE terrorism. It is no doubt that the resolute and unwavering political leadership povided to the task by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the cornerstone of the military victory.
The firm stand taken by President Rajapaksa in the face of tremendous international pressure exerted by the western nations, ensured that the military effort could be seen through to its ultimate end. This no doubt was the difference from previous occasions when military action had to be halted just as the security forces were about to finish off the militant terrorist organizations, due to international pressure.
However President Rajapaksa had an advantage that previous leaders did not have; history was on his side. The LTTE had proven beyond doubt that they were incorrigible. India that intervened in the late eighties to bring about a political solution burnt its finger. The Western nations that were fully backing and were involved in the 2002 – 2005 peace process clearly understood that the LTTE was beyond reason. The committed action of the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has seen that the LTTE was banned as a terrorist organization in most of the Western countries.
With all avenues of reaching a peaceful settlement being spurned by the Tigers who were brazenly arming and militarily strengthening themselves, the President had no option but to take necessary military action. The entire country that was absolutely fed up with the Tigers that killed thousands of people with a senseless war and manipulated all genuine efforts to reach a political settlement, stood behind the President in his effort to eliminate the Tigers and turn a new leaf in the country’s history.
The stubbornness of the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was amply displayed even at the last stage of the military operations. In the face of imminent defeat the Tiger leadership kept on holding to the false hope of striking a ceasefire and remerging after killing time. When that failed and the entire top level leadership of the LTTE were surrounded, the Tiger leadership still did not want to surrender to the Sri Lankan government but tried its level best to get the West to intervene and surrender to a third party.
The LTTE’s newly appointed international operative S. Pathmanathan alias KP who himself is wanted by the Interpol for gun running and other illicit activities, tried his level best to get Norwegian special envoy Eric Solheim to persuade the Western countries to work out a mechanism for the LTTE to surrender to a third party. In the face of these machinations President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the government came under tremendous pressure particularly due to the active role played by the Labour Party government of Britain that took it upon themselves to act the role of being the saviours of Prabhakaran. British Foreign Minister David Miliband went out of his way to get Sri Lanka into the UN Security Council agenda and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was constantly telephoning President Mahinda Rajapaksa. For Gordon Brown and Miliband it was an exercise to save at least one of its vote banks in London in the face of growing unpopularity of the Labour party government.
All that is history now and the top level leadership of the LTTE in Sri Lanka and its military strength has been destroyed. The country is expecting the dawn of a new era and the challenge before President Mahinda Rajapaksa now is to make those expectations a reality.
The defeat of terrorism has been accomplished. It is the quest for peace, reconciliation and achieving national harmony and development through genuine power devolution that is the challenge before the nation today.
It is no doubt that everyone was relieved to here the end of the LTTE. For many it was a moment to celebrate. However this fervor should not be allowed to reach the heights that could cloud the quest for national reconciliation and integration that is the need of the hour. The task before President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to see that the dignity of all communities are restored and root causes that led to the separatist struggle are addressed.
This victory should not be allowed to pave the way for the emergence of majoritarianism and marginalization of communities that in the first place led to the separatist movements. The war has created many scars in society, destroyed communities and polarized the country. A massive and genuine effort will be needed from all religious and community leaders to heal the wounds and achieve national integration.
There were genuine grievances in the Tamil community that led to the Tamil political struggle. However even when most of those grievances were addressed later, the LTTE became the stumbling block in reaching national reconciliation. Prabhakaran hijacked the Tamil political struggle and became the problem than being the solution.
Although the Sri Lankan constitution does not discriminate between the communities and there is no legally institutionalized racism in Sri Lanka, there are many practical problems and instances of marginalization faced by the Tamil community. The implementation of the language policy is one classic example. There are many instances when government offices send out letters, documents and notices to the public in Sinhala only. These practical issues should be immediately addressed. Also a major attitudinal change within the Sinhala community about the rich diversity of the Sri Lankan culture and heritage that has been nourished through the ages by cross cultural influences should be brought about. The state media should be utilized to integrate the nation and not to polarize the country on ethnic, religious and political lines. The President will have to address these concerns with utmost urgency.
It is no secret that the good understanding that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with India made the defeat of the LTTE possible. The President while rejecting the peace process mooted by the Norwegians, earlier stressed the need for the active involvement of the regional super power India to move towards a political solution. Making a statement following the defeat of the Tigers, India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji has said that a political solution should be achieved in Sri Lanka based on the Indo-Lanka accord.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has an advantage that no other former leader had in the country in going towards a political solution. He has the entire Sinhala community behind him to whom he does not have anything to prove. With that strength President Mahinda Rajapaksa is best positioned to bring about a political solution through devolution of power. This is an opportunity that should not be allowed to fade away

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Sri Lanka: Time to heal the wounds of conflict and war

Asian Tribune: Tue, 2009-05-19 01:29, By Raj Gonsalkorale

Sri Lankan Armed Forces have done what was unthinkable a few years ago. President Rajapaksa has done what none of his predecessors even dared to imagine was possible. The military battle with the LTTE is over. One has to pinch one self to believe this has happened.
Much will be written about this battle, and the bravery of the Sri Lankan Forces. They need to be written about and admired for their courage. Their Commanders led by the Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka need to be recognized and praised for their leadership, stead fastness and single minded determination to defeating Sri Lanka’s greatest enemy, the LTTE.
President Rajapaksa will speak to the Nation tomorrow. He deserves all the applause he will receive from his beloved countrymen for what he has done in giving them a fresh opportunity to seek a solution to this conflict without bloodshed. He needs to lead the way now in healing the wounds of conflict and war, and lead the people towards a permanent solution, so that we will not have another terrorist group making excuses to get to power through bullets, grenades, and suicide bombs, and ruin the lives and minds of men and women, and children, and consign them permanently to the dustbin. It is time now to celebrate, but to celebrate the opportunity we now have to heal the wounds, physical and mental, and not to celebrate to forget the wounds.
When all those civilians caught in the conflict are taken to IDP camps, we will have perhaps as much as 300,000 persons who may have lost a loved one, lost a limb, their homes and their livelihood, and who may have permanent mental scars against those who made them suffer. The Sinhalese would like to think these IDPs will blame the LTTE for their suffering, while some Tamils will blame the Sinhala dominated governments for their suffering.
Irrespective of what the IDPs think, they are all Sri Lankans who need to be looked after. They are human beings with feelings, the same as other human beings who live in other parts of Sri Lanka.
They all need to be looked after, fed, clothed and health requirements met. Children in camps must go to school and they should not miss any of the opportunities that children in other parts of the country have, and taken for granted. Women must feel safe and be safe at all times.
The challenge before the President and the government is huge. Rebuilding the shattered lives of these IDPs is going to be a far tougher battle than even the battle to defeating the LTTE. Foreign countries, especially the West, who have been so concerned about these civilians must help if their concerns have been genuine.
The President has already appointed a Task Force with a wide ranging agenda, to map out the restoration of the physical infrastructure of the war torn North. Perhaps he needs another Technical Task Force to concentrate entirely on rebuilding the minds of the affected people who have suffered so many traumas. He also needs to make sure that the gains made are not lost by one or two single incidents of misbehavior on the part of a few individuals from the Armed Forces. So far, the Armed Forces have behaved impeccably but one can never say how the odd person might behave when a sense of power gets to their heads.
Misbehavior by a few will be enough to wipe the slate clean of all hard fought and hard gained achievements of so many.
While the government’s stated goal is to usher in economic development in the North as they did in the East once it was liberated from the LTTE, that alone is not sufficient to win the hearts and minds of people caught in the conflict, and who have lost their livelihoods and their homes. They also need to feel a sense of security of the present and of the future. In terms of their sense of physical security, the sooner the government introduces third party involvement in running the IDP camps, the better. Initially, it would be a good idea to introduce bodies like ICRC to be more involved in running these camps alongside Sri Lankan officials, while the government provides security for the camps.
In terms of their sense of security concerning their future, they should start witnessing the actual resettlement of IDPs in their original homes. They should also be given opportunities to learn a new trade if they so wish during the time they are kept in the camps. Needless to say these cannot be done overnight and it will take many months before the governments own good intentions can be put to practice considering the herculean task before them. But, there should be some indication that this will happen so that the IDPs will have some hope for their future security.
Broken families have to be mended. Children separated from their parents have to be reunited. Children who have lost their parents have to be found foster parents or children’s orphanages. The list of things to do is endless. It needs the support of professionals who have experience in such rehabilitation work. The President must open doors for such people to come in as soon as that becomes possible.
Some Western countries and the Western media are looking for reasons or them to make a scapegoat of the Sri Lankan government. They will be watching with hawk eyed inquisitiveness for any slip on the part of the Sri Lankan authorities. For them, news revolves around failure, war and mayhem. Success stories are rarely news worthy.
What is important for the Sri Lankan government is not to worry about international opinion if such opinion is based on falsehoods and misinformation. What is important is negative international opinion based on fact. The Sri Lankan government must therefore be vigilant at all times to make sure they do not give fodder to those vultures who are waiting to tarnish the good name of the country. One can defend one self against untruths, but not against the truth, if untoward things do happen.
This is not a time to gloat. There is so much to be done. It is a time to take stock of what has happened over the years and repair the damages caused over so many years to the fabric of our society. It is time to make sure terrorism never raises its ugly head ever again. It is time we do what is right because it is right, not do things because we are pressured to do so.
Tomorrow, Sri Lankans will expect the President to commend the Armed Forces for their magnificent performance, and express the Nations gratitude to them for having defeated the once invincible, mighty LTTE. They deserve nothing less. However, The President must also be cognizant of the feelings of the vanquished considering that some Tamils supported the LTTE for fighting for a cause that was close to their hearts, although many of them may have despised the methods used by the LTTE, and would welcome their defeat. The President must speak to all Sri Lankans and he should have some comforting words for all Sri Lankans, and leave everyone with some hope that we can build a new Sri Lanka together if we could be focused more on the future rather than the past.
- Asian Tribune -

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to Basics - A solid conceptual base for rebuilding trust

Dailynews, 13/05/09 By Renton De Alwis


Last weekend Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrated Vesak. Vesak is the day when Buddhists recount the three most significant events of the life of Gauthama Buddha. It is the day when the Buddha was born, won over his greed and attained Nirvana; breaking the suffering, the cycle of life and rebirth and passed away leaving the Dhamma or discourses of sense, truth and wisdom behind.
On this very weekend of Vesak, we as a nation were once again at crossroads. On the one hand the nation’s collective conscience was seeking brisk ways to bring relief to the suffering of our Tamil brethren trapped in the Northern war front. Lives were being taken not only of those who have sought violence but also of innocents on all sides.
We have the stark reality that people are used as human shields by those who sought and continue to seek terror as a way to resolve issues for over two and half decades. The mistakes made by all of us over the years are many.
The resolve to end terror and seek ways different to that of the past to find genuine reconciliation, building trust and confidence is looming. Yet, the suffering on the ground is real with pain, loss of life and survival touching those who are victims of circumstances. Healing deep wounds beyond the current suffering is the challenge we, as a nation face.
Practising a true Buddhist way of life and seeking the true meaning of Vesak will, in the columnist’s mind give the Sri Lankan nation a way forward when we take on the task of reconciliation based on the principles of Karuna (Compassion), Mettha (Loving Kindness), Muditha (Sympathetic Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity).
What the Buddha sought, found and taught is that, there is a way beyond the suffering and pain, where hope of an enlightened way is possible. The way proposed is primarily a way for each which then will form the collective character of the way forward, be it for a nation, region or for the world.
Transforming the way of the Buddhist discourse to that for lifestyles and economics will be the challenge before us. In times and circumstances where small, self- reliant and sufficient economies present, desirable and rational alternatives to the globalised, greed driven. ‘Big is Better’ type social and economic models, this may well be the way forward for us all.
Douse the fires
We are now tasked as a nation to seek ways of meeting the post-terrorism reconciliation and building of trust between communities in the North, South, East, West and the Central Hills.
The immediate needs will be related to attending to the injured, sick and the traumatised. Survival needs of providing a sense of security and safety, preventing the spread of diseases through maintenance of good sanitation, feeding, clothing and the like will be vital.
It will be months if not years before even a semblance of normalcy can be attained for those who are now displaced from their land and adobe. Rebuilding and reconstruction of lives and a fresh socio-economic web will be a slow and painful process.
The need of the hour is for a united and unified effort of all. Raging fires of hatred must be doused at the local and international levels and licking of wounds must be replaced with solid, effective frontline action aimed for the welfare of the displaced, injured and the hurt.
Hope and trust
Infrastructure such as bridges, roads, hospitals, market places, administrative mechanisms will all need to be set in place, like we see happen in the East within a short span of time. With each brick and with each layer of mortar, lasting hope and trust will also need to be cemented as strong as possible.
Issues of establishing ownership of land of the displaced, providing them a sense of confidence of the genuineness of the intentions need be carried through on the fast-forward mode with credible and neutral institutional mechanisms. This in turn will help bring about a change of their mindsets about whom they perceived as the oppressor for this long,
Creating tension
It is also prudent to be mindful that there will be those who will continue to seek to benefit from the misery of a suffering people.
They will seek to create tension through misinformation and attempt to deliberately design chaotic and undesirable circumstances. Anticipation of the modus-operandi of such and being ready to counter them will be the responsibility of all citizens as well as the Diaspora of this country.
What we now need is genuine care, vigilance and a sense of protective giving from all alike, regardless of whatever differences of views there may have been in the past among us.
Critical to such process when we rebuild lives with trust and faith in each other, reaching out to each other, is the need to have a conceptual basis to that effort.
It is important that it has moral and ethical credence that can rise above and beyond the mistrust, misinformation and misadventure scenarios of the past.
A model for rebuilding
Buddhism as a philosophy and a way of life (not necessarily in its form as a religion) can help us meet this difficult challenge. Its way, when practised with a conscious mind, can encourage us to be compassionate and non-violent with ourselves as well as others, which is a good a first-step in building a model of trust and credence.
The leadership of the nation building apparatus need to articulate the basis for the model, positioning it transparently but away from any chauvinistic overtones of being a vehicle for propagating a religious identity.
Being traditionally a majority Hindu Community, the Tamils have at the root of their social fabric an acceptance of the basis of the true Buddhist way of life and that of the Gandhian philosophy of prudent and simple living.
This can be a major platform articulated through sharing and understanding among local leaders and social workers regardless of them being Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. Such an initiative in-turn can be a way to cement a neutral conceptual base for the rebuilding effort.
A disconnected society
In approaching to establish such a simplistic conceptual basis, we must also realise and be aware that it is the dynamics of the complex global economy which has created a disconnected society, psychological deprivation and a breakdown of the sustainable and natural way of life of ours, through the many shocks it brought about in the past few decades of fast paced growth.
In this context, Buddhism also can help us to focus on the system and its structural violence, instead of blaming or condemning ourselves or others within that system.
The teachings can encourage an understanding of the many complex ways we affect others and our environment, and encourage empathy and a profound affirmation of life. Only by recognizing how we are all part of this system, can we actively work together to disengage from these life-denying structures.
The philosophy of Buddhism, also in its holistic approach, can help us to understand and realise how various symptoms are interrelated; how the crises facing us are systemic and deeply rooted in economic and social imperatives.
Understanding the myriad connections between the problems can prevent us from wasting our efforts on the symptoms of the crises, rather than focusing on their fundamental causes. Under the surface, even such seemingly unconnected problems such as ethnic violence, terrorism, climate change, poverty, pollution of the air and water, pandemics, disruption of social institutions, and cultural disintegration are closely interlinked.
The entire fabric
Emotionally and psychologically, such a shift in our perception of the nature of the problems is deeply empowering for both the designer of a model for rebuilding as well as for all those who are the victims that need security, care, trust and attention.
In a crisis of this nature, being faced with a never-ending string of seemingly unrelated and un-surmountable problems can be overwhelming, but finding the points at which they converge can make our strategy to solve them more focused and effective.
It is then just a question of pulling the right threads to affect the entire fabric, rather than having to deal with each problem individually.
A fine focus on the Four Noble Truths of Dukkha: or realisation of suffering; Samudaya: cause of suffering as the desire to have and control things; Nirodha: effective action to ease it with Nirvana; and Magga; or the way through the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering can be an effective way forward for the conceptual base model for strategic decision making in rebuilding our once lost nation.

Useful Web Addresses:
A Guide to Buddhist Resources - www.buddhanet.net
A comprehensive TV Channel of Buddhist resource links - www.buddhistchannel.tv
Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies - www.ocbs.org
Journal of Buddhist Ethics - www.buddhistethics.org/2/rightbib.html
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance - www.religioustolerance.org/buddhism3.htm
Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services - www.resettlementmin.gov.lk
Internally Displaced Persons; Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka - www.idpsrilanka.lk
Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka - www.defence.lk/english.asp

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