Peace | Speeches

Development and the Peace Process

Meeting of the Religious Committee of the NACPR

Colombo, Sri Lanka

May 3, 2005

Most Rev. Mahanayaka Thero of the Malwatte Chapter
Leaders of the Hindu, Islam and Christian religions,
Distinguished guests,
Secretary to the President,
Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nationl Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation was established six months ago. After the inaugural meeting of the NACPR, its three committees namely, the Religious Committee, Political Committee and the Civil Society Committee have met and held several discussions. I need not repeat here the main objective of this Advisory Council as you are well aware of the objectives.

In addition to what I have said on the day the NACPR was inaugurated, today I wish express my views on a new development that has arisen in our march towards peace. It is the situation that has emerged mainly after tsunami disaster. Our main objective today is to explain the programme we have initiated to the peace process forward and to inform you of the current state of the peace process and obtain your views and those of the civil society.

Although we had planned to meet in January we could not do so, due to the Tsunami Disaster. I express my regret on behalf of the government for not having been able to hold a meeting for the past 4 months due to our heavy involvement in the post Tsunami relief activities. Even today the Prime Minister and a few other Ministers who were due to be here at the commencement of this meeting, could not be present as their presence in Parliament today is essential because two important Bills related to Tsunami Relief and Nation Building Programme are being debated and voted on today. A new dimension to the peace process has developed as a result of the Tsunami Disaster, which devastated a large area, both in the North and East of our country. Unfortunately nothing can be done in our country without party politics, but in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster we had to forget our differences of religion, caste and creed to face the challenges before us.

The government acted immediately and effectively soon after the tsunami struck our country. From the day after the disaster, the government addressed the urgent needs of those affected in the North and East. I was not in the country when it happened, but I returned the following day and through my Secretary I wrote to the LTTE inquiring what further assistance was necessary, because I was aware of the vast devastation caused to two districts which are under the control of the LTTE. The LTTE responded, requesting items such as water pumps, tractors, bull-dozers and pick up trucks. We dispatched them without delay, despite there being a war situation. Of course, there is a Cease Fire Agreement in force for about three years now, despite certain shortcomings. Not withstanding these shortcomings we acted as a responsible government, ours is the government of the whole island. Even at times of war it is the government’s responsibility to provide humanitarian needs. We consider it our duty and responsibility to meet the needs of all of our people. This is our policy and we have consistently adhered to it.

Most of the aid that was received from foreign governments, international organizations and local NGOs was sent to the North and East, because we knew that facilities there, especially in the health sector as well as in some other areas, were not adequate.

Within two weeks with the aim of rebuilding the nation, we made a detailed assessment of the devastated infrastructure through the relevant line ministries. After a little more than three weeks we had our plans ready. By January 19th the plan was made public through TAFREN. We are now working according to that plan and some of the funds pledged by donors are coming in.

Our plan is to rebuild roads and schools, hospitals, power facilities and water and sanitation systems, railways and buildings and also to develop these facilities to a better condition than what existed before.

Our development plans include reconstruction activities relevant to the North and East as well. Our government has already commenced work on these plans; foreign governments private institutions, individuals and NGOs have undertaken to complete some of these projects and agreements [MoUs] have been signed. For example there are schools some devastated fully and others partially. Reconstruction work has already commenced, in around 200 schools in eleven districts.

Within one month after the tsunami most of the rebuilding work commenced. This includes the East. However, in the East there has been a slight delay. This was due to – the distances, difficulties in procuring building material, transport difficulties and other reasons. Despite these difficulties some of this work has already commenced.

When we were progressing in this manner, a proposal was presented to us through the Norwegian facilitators by the LTTE, suggesting that the government and the LTTE work together with other representatives of the people in those areas through a ‘Joint Mechanism’ .That is the term which is being used at the moment. This would implement rebuilding programs in the North and East affected by the tsunami. I need not waste time relating the history of these events.

Our Peace Secretariat through the Norwegian Facilitators negotiated with the LTTE for four months and exchanged ideas and discussed proposals.

I will now explain the present position. There were a few sections we could not agree on since any government or a sovereign state could not accept them. We presented our ideas on this and hoped that the LTTE would accept our position. What I would like to emphasize is to you are the advantages we could gain towards achieving peace. As I know, the LTTE came for negotiations on seven occasions and this is the first instance that the LTTE has agreed to some form of working arrangement with a government, that is our government, although there had been similar thoughts expressed by the LTTE in the past to several successive governments. We have had the war for 20 years and this is the 21st year. This is the first time that the LTTE has agreed to work in a peaceful manner with a government accepting its sovereignty. That’s not all, this would be the first occasion, if it succeeds, that the LTTE will be working with the government, and government officials. The LTTE which vehemently declined to accommodate the other people’s interests, especially the Muslims in the North and East, who were brutally killed and massacred, has now agreed to work within a common framework accommodating those very sections once rejected by them and the Government of Sri Lanka. Therefore, if they enter into a peaceful administrative structure with the government, it will be the first instance of such a change of heart.

The main purpose of this mechanism is to undertake the development of only the areas devastated by Tsunami in the North and East, nothing more. The Tsunami Disaster Zone would cover an area of two Km from the coast line in six affected districts of Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara. Therefore, this arrangement is only to rebuild areas affected by the Tsunami Disaster in these districts of North & East. Even within these 6 districts the development programmes in areas beyond the two km limit will not come under this proposed joint mechanism programme.

Current development activities of the government or by the NE provincial council will continue to function without any change. I must tell you that for the last six years our government, as well as the previous government implemented development activities such as building hospitals and schools in all these districts in the North and East including Mullaitivu. It was not given much publicity because certain sections resented it. Especially the LTTE preferred not to acknowledge that the government is engaged in development activities in these areas. We have built roads, bridges, anicuts, water tanks however not large ones. In any event this year we have planned to reconstruct 05 large tanks, the ‘Yoda Weva’ [‘Giant’s tank’] in Mannar and the ‘Iranamadu tank’ in Kilinochchi. Once these are completed, there will not be any problems of water in the North. We have renovated school buildings, hospitals. Not all of them are complete- some work still needs to be done. The University which was closed has re-opened and gradually we are starting new faculties in the university thus promoting educational activities as well. These activities will continue. Since the government came into office, last year, I have taken over these functions under my charge by establishing a special Ministry, the Triple (RRR) Ministry - that is a Ministry of Relief Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. We are engaged in the development work more expeditiously than ever. We have got foreign funding too.. There is no obstruction whatsoever from the LTTE and in some instances we have discussed with the LTTE. Therefore it is very clear that if this proposed mechanism comes into effect, it will be confined or restricted. It will be restricted to the post Tsunami rebuilding activities within the two km strip from the coastal line.

I believe that the Venerable members of the Maha Sangha and all the Rev. Members of the clergy and all others are gathered here because each one of them and all of them believe that the solution to our ethnic problem is not war but it is through a negotiated peaceful settlement. I have been battling with this problem directly for 11 years. Prior to that in my political career, and active political involvement for about 10 or 15 years, I have taken a keen interest in this problem. I had been working on this by meeting several militant groups including Mr. Prabhakaran’s. Especially my husband Wijaya has worked with them. I can tell you now, that during the past 20 years, we have never been afforded a great opportunity than this in our search for a solution. Today we have got a golden opportunity to take the first step on the path to peace. We have only lifted one foot but not yet started the journey.

The LTTE which demanded a separate state, the LTTE which fought for a separate state, the LTTE which killed several thousands of their own Tamil people for the sake of a separate state, came down a few steps when they asked for an ISGA. We can term the ISGA as a very broad process of devolution. Today the very same LTTE, what ever the reasons may be, are agreeing to a proposal which is not even devolution of power but something like decentralization, then what more should we demand of them.

The extent of devastation caused by the Tsunami was unprecedented in the history of our country. However, as the saying goes “every dark cloud has a silver lining “ I think that from some corner through this mechanism a silver lining is emerging. The LTTE which asked for a separate state is now for the first time trying to enter the administrative machinery. In my view it is a great victory to have the LTTE enter the administrative machinery by giving us their views, entering into discussions, exchanging ideas with representatives of all other parties and participating with the government in administration along with other organizations. The decisions that we take will be implemented through the government institutions as done in the present and not through a separate authority with separate officials.

In other words these programmes will be implemented through the government departments, institutions and provincial authorities. This is not a Government Authority or a Corporation appointing separate employees such as engineers to implement decisions of the joint mechanism. Perhaps this could result in getting the work done more effectively, more expeditiously and may be with less corruption because of fear. This is my personal opinion however I see positives in this mechanism which will be worked out in three tiers. The National Committee, Regional Committee and 6 district Committees for the 6 districts. All these committees will comprise representatives of the different ethnic groups. In certain cases there could be representatives of International, National and Non Governmental Organizations. It must be noted that agreeing to work within such a democratic framework demonstrates the LTTE’s move towards the democratic process. Instead of a dictatorial single channel administrative machinery, agreeing to work with a broader representation, discuss and arrive at decisions, supervise, and monitor activities on a district and regional basis are healthy trends and I think we have come a long forward. So Venerable Sirs and friends, why can not we do this? I am sure you know, but I would like to reiterate, ‘I am committed to democracy -I am very sincerely committed -I have been saying this throughout, I have demonstrated that throughout my political career of 33 years. I am at thorough democrat. It is our party which suffered the most, with the largest number of political killings between the years 1977 to 1991. All other political parties including the ones in the North had taken up arms and it resulted in violence. But the two political parties that I belonged to never took that path and it was with the greatest difficulty I stopped them from resorting to such action despite several thousands of our party supporters being killed. Therefore I can speak as a practicing democrat. Democracy means accepting one with a majority which is 51% or we could say 55% and no country could ever be ruled with 100% agreement. Therefore, if there is the consent of the majority that is what matters. If we know what we are doing is in the interest of the country and if it becomes clear after obtaining the views of different people and sections, then a government should have the strength and the courage to implement decisions. I sincerely think that we have to do this for the sake of the future of our country. I need not harp on the fact that peace is essential for the country’s forward march. Our Most Ven. Prelate of the Malwatte Chapter has mentioned this very often. I have seen such statements in the media and on several occasions he had rendered valuable advice to me in this regard on this matter. Then all other religious leaders at every opportunity they got stressed this fact. Whenever I had discussions with them - political leaders and others who are present here including the NGO leaders- mentioned the importance of restoring peace for the country’s development.

I can clearly state, in the recent history of 20 years of this country we have never had such a fine, practical and advantageous opportunity for peace. Then this is something that we should grab with both hands. I think if we have a referendum tomorrow the result would be that this proposal would be approved by more than 60% of our people. This is an underestimated figure. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has about 50% electoral support of this country. At other times it has got slightly reduced support around 40 to 50 %. We have had dialogues with our party supporters and activists at various levels. All political parties of the Peoples Alliance have been lobbying the support of the people. I personally discussed with all the local leaders spending one whole day with them. It was something similar to a workshop and what they said was that this should be done very early. I know that even among the UNPers a large number of people think on the same lines. I also have had constant dialogue with the Muslim Organizations who work with us and they too do not have any objections. However, they do entertain some fears, they fear and remember their suffering caused by the LTTE in the past. If they had the assurance that they will not face such situations in the future they are prepared to accept the solutions that we propose. We can’t give a 100% assurance but as it is, the situation is very much better than what it was and we have had a number of positive assurances. The handful of people who opposed these proposals, ask us why we should have a separate mechanism when our government can work on its own. Even within our government as I told a while ago there is a party thinking on such terms. It is true, we can do that. For the last six years we have engaged in development activities in the North and East. Although legally they were not involved, unofficially they have been working with us. We have done that successfully and it is still being continued. These are activities which have no connection to the post Tsunami rebuilding activities. Through a mechanism of this type this development work could be done more expeditiously with the LTTE participation with a democratically elected Government.

In addition this would definitely lay a strong foundation for the peace building process. The LTTE would have had several reasons for them to agree to a proposal of this nature. They took every effort to get donor funding direct. Mr. Tamilselvam sent direct messages to me, thanking me for providing assistance to them at a time of need, but the same Tamilselvam also carried on a propaganda campaign through television channels for three days… from December 29th to 31st saying that they did not receive any assistance from the government and the people in their area are suffering as a result and that people were dying of starvation. This is a blatant lie. They did that because they were trying to get foreign funds and work independently with regard to the post Tsunami development in North and East. When they failed they had no option but to work with the government. Foreign governments and the funding agencies have their policies and procedures. They were not prepared to grant funds direct to an organization like the LTTE bypassing the government. However, the foreign governments and donor agencies told us that they would only grant funds to the government and that they consider it prudent to obtain the views of the LTTE and their participation in the reconstruction work. The international community has been constantly pursuing this.

It is foolhardy to expect an organization like the LTTE to throw away their arms over night and accept the democratic process of the government.

We have to build confidence among the LTTE, that government is consenting to work jointly with them - they will have to be convinced that the government does not intend on taking them for a ride, but is sincerely interested in addressing the grievances of the Tamil people. They need to be convinced that the government of Sri Lanka is prepared to allow the Tamil Community to engage in its own administration with their own appointed leaders. It would be the ideal if we can give this assurance to a political organization which does not engage in armed violence. The fact is that this problem has eaten into the country’s quality for the last 20 years, culminating in the infamous Black July when thousands of innocent Tamil people were killed. This resulted in a loss of confidence among the Tamil community. Now it is imperative to rebuild confidence among them. It would be very good if we can do this and engage them in a democratic process. But today whether we agree or not it has to be accepted that the LTTE has emerged as the voice of the Tamil Community. How they did that is now not relevant to the issue. May be that there were more educated intelligent people in other Tamil Organizations. There were five Tamil militant organizations with whom my late husband had dialogues in his quest for peace and I too had discussions with those organizations. All these organizations have been brutally and totally eliminated by killing off their leaders and cadres. The LTTE is therefore now forcing themselves as the main representative of the Tamils in the North. The LTTE has achieved this position in some way or the other.

I am a devout Buddhist and I believe in non-violence, in fact all religions preach nonviolence. Now we know that these organizations have killed people eliminated their rival organizations and if we are to say now we are not prepared to work with them because they are murderers... What is our next step? Today, Mr. Prabhakaran who had made killing his lifestyle has for whatever the reason agreed to work with the government in peaceful manner… at least there is verbal agreement. Then, why is it that we cannot give this opportunity a chance. By dwelling into past deeds there will be no solution. I have spoken to these people who oppose the joint mechanism and I find that they have no alternative programme. Then what is the solution? Should it then be war? They don’t give an answer. Neither party can win a war…. neither the government nor the LTTE. Then what then is the option? Should we not give them a chance to work together? So, if they are prepared to enter into the process that we respect and practice, I propose that they should be given an opportunity to do so.

I want to stress the fact that the proposed mechanism will be an impetus to our march for peace. I am prepared do my utmost to achieve this. I know that there is a section in the opposition expecting the government to fall when I take this essential step towards peace. These problems are our party problems and should not be a problem to the country. If the government falls some might loose their ministerial positions. I too may loose my Presidency. These however are personal issues which have no bearing on the national question of the country. Some of us even tend to think that even if we loose the government in our attempt to solve the national problem we should not back pedal the process. But then there must be some strong successors to go ahead with the process. If all the religious leaders confer on us their blessings and obtain the support of all others- not only the political leaders but also other sections- we could succeed. More than 50,000 people among them scores of Tamils and Muslims and also many Sinhalese have sacrificed their lives for the sake of peace. The most respected and distinguished leaders of this country have sacrificed their lives for the sake of peace.
Let us cast aside our differences and work together in unity. Let us make use of this rare opportunity and lead our country to peace and prosperity.

May I request your blessings once again? I thank the Most Venerable Mahanayake Thero of the Malwatte Chapter who so kindly graced this occasion at our invitation and Chief Prelates of other Chapters who have come from distant places. I also offer my sincere thanks to the Bishop of the Anglican Church, Hindu and Muslim Religious Leaders and all others present here today.