Democracy & Human Rights | Speeches

Terrorism, Democracy, and Conflict Resolution

Address following LTTE attacks on the International Airport & Air Force Base

Colombo, Sri Lanka

July 30, 2001

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga addressing the nation on state television Wednesday night, strongly condemned Tuesday’s LTTE attack on the Katunayake Air Force Base and the Bandaranaike International Airport.

The full text of the statement is as follows:

I take this opportunity personally and on behalf of my Cabinet of Ministers and Government to express our heartfelt and deepest sympathies to the families of those who were killed in the terrorist attack on the Air Force Base and Katunayake International Airport yesterday, 24th July, 2001. We also wish to express our deep regret to the staff and employees of the Airport, Sri Lankan Airlines and other Airlines, as well as to the tourists and other travellers who were inconvenienced in various ways by this incident.

My Government and I condemn in the strongest terms, this brutal terrorist attack by the LTTE, on civilian installations such as the Airport, with the objective of brutalising and murdering civilians and the attack of the Air Force Base.

I also wish to express our deep gratitude to the Commanders and personnel of the three Armed Forces, the Inspector General of Police and the Police personnel, the Special Task Force and the Army Commandos for their most able action and their dedication to bring the situation under control within a short period. I must also make special mention of the calm endurance and the patience demonstrated, once again by our people, especially those living and working in the vicinity of the attack, in the face of the horrors of terrorist action, perpetrated upon the people by the LTTE in the last 18 years.

The Airport has been reopened for international air traffic last evening. The curfew that was enforced in the vicinity of the Airport has been lifted since last afternoon.

I also wish to express my pride as Head of State and Government, in the ability demonstrated by the various organs of the State and the Government, in executing a brilliant exercise in crisis management, by bringing - possibly the most horrendous attack on a public facility ever seen in Sri Lanka - under control within a few hours, and bringing back normalcy to the Airport operations as well as to civilian life.

I am sure that the vast majority of the people who are capable of some objectivity, appreciate the efficiency and the speed with which the Government has moved, to protect its people and property, yesterday.

Let all those who act in the name of hatred and terror in the north–east, and their supporters in the South be warned; far from being weakened by fear of attack, our resolve for Peace has been incalculably strengthened.

As in previous attacks by the LTTE, the damage caused to the people’s lives, as well as to the economy, will prove to be immense. I wish to observe that throughout its history of terrorism, the LTTE has attempted to destroy as many lives of innocent civilians as they could, to seriously damage and destroy the economy and to devastate the forward march of the Sri Lankan Nation. The LTTE has also made attempts to disrupt every effort of the People’s Alliance Government, to bring about an end to the war, through a political settlement through a discussion with them. Worst of all, the LTTE has calculatedly thwarted every effort, by the present Government, to resolve the nationalities’ question and to accord and guarantee to the Tamil and Muslim peoples their rightful place in the political, economic and social spheres of this country, through the democratic and constitutional process.

On three occasions, the United National Party has engaged in a calculated effort to prevent my Government from bringing in a new Constitution, which would guarantee the democratic rights of all our peoples, including the granting of more political and economic powers to all the peoples of our country. Once when we first presented the Constitution to the country in August 1995; next when at the UNP’s request, the process of discussions were undertaken at the Select Committee of Parliament from March 1996 onwards; and the third time when, at their request once again, I initiated discussions between the PA Government and the UNP in March, 2000. On all of these occasions I and my Government, acted with utmost responsibility and commitment to the country and to our people, by sincerely inviting the UNP to actively participate in our quest for Peace. At every one of these occasions the UNP calculatedly and consciously thwarted the process of Peace, while earnestly promising their support.

The history of the LTTE, which purports to fight for the Tamil peoples’ rights - with regard to my Government’s efforts at ending this terrible war, in order to bring about a lasting peace for the Tamil people as well as for the Sinhalese, Muslims and others - has not been any different. Having failed to obtain the support of the Parliamentary Opposition for a 2/3rd majority to institute a new Constitution, my Government attempted, on three occasions, to employ an alternative procedure, which would be democratic and morally and politically just. Once at the beginning of 1998, a second time when I called the 1999 Presidential Elections 15 months before its due date, and the third time by calling for the Referendum two weeks ago, the LTTE carried out three major terrorist attacks, with the express purpose of sabotaging the resolution of the Tamil People’s problems and bringing an end to this reign of terror, destruction and havoc.

It is true that my Government has ended the State terror that reigned in this country for 17 years before 1994 and re-established democracy and the sovereignty of the people. It is also true, that we have successfully strengthened and stabilised the economy and made great strides forward in improving the living standards of all sectors of the population. We have also built from the ashes, a strong, effective and modern military machine which has effectively defended the territorial integrity of the country and guaranteed the safety of its people, against the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world.

Yet, seven years is not long enough to see a complete end to the war caused by the very foolish acts of an even more vicious regime in July 1983. The death, destruction and devastation caused by the acts perpetrated on that darkest day in the history of the Sri Lankan nation, will take many more years to heal and repair.

The country needs a strong and stable Government to achieve this objective. The present electoral system ensures the institution of Governments, with a weak majority in Parliament, even though the people may have given a resounding victory to a political party. This endangers the political stability of the Government and thereby the country. Reform of the present unjust and undemocratic electoral system is an urgent National need.

The other problem that needs to be urgently addressed is the frustration, injustice and indignities suffered by the minorities. Their rights must be guaranteed not only through a new Constitution, but also through a strong Government with a political will and the commitment and honesty to implement those guarantees.

Then, also, the democratic rights of the majority Sinhala people, as well as all the others must be more firmly guaranteed. Democratic institutions and practices must be strengthened. For this purpose the sovereignty of the people must be made to reign supreme, by strengthening the powers of Parliament, as well as strengthening the major institutions of Government. With this objective in view, I have proposed the abolition of the Executive Presidency with its wide ranging powers, which the UNP Government thrust upon the people without seeking their mandate. I also propose to accord more powers to the Judicial Service Commission, Public Services Commission, Elections Commission, etc.

It is for this purpose that I have decided to replace the present Constitution of 1978, which has been the cause of many of the serious crises faced by this country, during the last quarter century.

The people of Sri Lanka have a historic decision to make, singly and collectively, at the referendum I have called for on the 21st of August. It is a decision for the future of our nation. It is a decision which would remove the major obstacles to progress in this country. It is a decision that would give to this country, once again, a new Constitution where human decency, the majority will of the people and their sovereignty and the economic and social progress of this country would reign supreme.

All those abroad and here in this country, who are capable of any form of objectivity, do accept that my Government has performed an immensely difficult task, in taking the country forward from the terrible devastation and mess it was in, when the PA Government took over the reins of power, seven years ago. But to accomplish the rest of the task and to give our country and its peoples, the prosperity they so richly deserve and so fervently desire, we need one thing and one thing alone. That is peace.

I was saddened to note the response of the Leader of the Opposition last evening to the LTTE's horrendous act of terror. He went on at great length in an effort to place the blame for the LTTE's terror on my Government, hoping that the people have forgotten that this entire era of terror was begun by the Government of which he was a senior member and then the Prime Minister. It was sad to see him enumerate the number of LTTE attacks during the seven years of the present Government, forgetting that the number of LTTE attacks and acts of terror during his Government, during shorter periods of time, were three times more. This is not to speak of the number of attacks carried out by the state and other terrorist organizations in the late 80s and early 90s.

May I appeal once again to the Leader of the Opposition, to try to rise above pettiness and reach the greatness and statesmanship required of him, by the Nation in this moment of its history.

As the Head of State and the President of all the peoples of Sri Lanka, I invite, once more all political parties, who may possess some commitment and responsibility towards the country and its people, to join with me and my Government to put an end to the challenge of terrorism and to further strength democracy and the supremacy of the people, in this land of ours. I request sincerely the UNP, as well as all the other democratic political parties to put aside for a brief moment, all political and other differences as well as petty personal desires for power and privilege, in order that we together may rebuild this nation, as an undivided, strong and humanistic one.

What is at stake today is not the petty interests of anyone of us, nor is it the protection of the privileges enjoyed by some of us. What is at stake is the Nation’s future, our future and most of all - that of our children.

I request the opposition political parties to join me and my Government in the difficult task I have commenced to implement, which is the creation of a “new political culture” in this nation and through that, let us work together to achieve the first and most urgent objective of Peace, before we attempt anything else. The UNP more than all the others in the Opposition, must take an honest and clear decision on which side they stand-whether they stand on the side of Peace and that of our people or whether they still want to compromise with terror. This is a moment when all honest and true representatives of the people, must take a clear and unambiguous stand against terror and for Peace. Then with a clear vision, an honest dedication to this nation’s cause and an unshaken courage and commitment for peace, I believe that we, together, could take this country forward to a bright and prosperous future.