Peace Lies in Negotiations
Inaugural Meeting of the NACPR
Colombo, Sri Lanka
October 4, 2004
On this important occasion, I would like to thank all of you present here for having accepted my invitation to participate in the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation (NACPR). We have here with us the Mahanayake Theros, as well as religious leaders from all the religious communities and leaders of important political parties represented in Parliament. We also have present here the leaders and representatives of major Non-Governmental Organizations that have played a role in bringing an end to the armed conflict and building Peace in Sri Lanka. I wish to welcome you all and express my gratitude and that of my Government for the willingness you have demonstrated to contribute to this great enterprise of collectively seeking solutions as a Nation to the most serious challenge posed to our motherland in its post independent history.
The setting up of the NACPR is yet another step along the path of my policy and that of my Government for Peace.
Our policy for the resolution of the conflict has been made clear and stated often. It has remained consistent and unwavering.
We continue to hold the view that the resolution of the problem lies mainly in negotiations between the Government and the main protagonist, the LTTE. To this end my Governments, for the past ten years; have engaged with the LTTE on four occasions (including the present one) in an attempt to arrive at a negotiated settlement that would be durable and acceptable to the majority of our peoples. In this context we are presently seeking through intense dialogue, to recommence the stalled negotiations process with the LTTE.
I wish to state firmly and clearly that the Government is committed to do all that is required to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table. But of course, whatever we undertake as a Government, will be implemented within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, guaranteeing the sovereignty of the State and the security of the Nation and its peoples.
My Government also has a stated policy of conducting an open and inclusive process, in its endeavours towards Peace. We believe that no lasting Peace could be achieved without the involvement of all major players in this country. By this I mean, the people and their elected representatives as well as the religious and civil society leaders and others.
In the course of processes undertaken by my Governments for the resolution of the conflict, we have at most times, kept the country informed and obtained their participation in various ways, such as through the 'Sudu Nelum' movement, as well as through public briefings by the government. We have now arrived at the conclusion that a more structured forum for a wider and consistent consultation with the people is required.
You are aware of complaints made by leaders of some communities, such as some of the Opposition Parties, the Muslims and also religious leaders that they have not been consulted sufficiently, during various peace processes undertaken by some governments.
We have taken all these factors into consideration when we formulated the concept of a National Advisory Council, to undertake this much required national consultative process.
We have envisaged the NACPR on the following terms:-
- Firstly, as a national forum for consultation on the Peace Process between the Government and the citizenry, mainly through their elected representatives and also through their religious leaders, as well as leaders of civil society,
- This Council will serve as a forum, where the government will keep the country informed of the progress of the negotiations process, as well as measures undertaken for ethnic reconciliation and for reconstruction and development of the North and East.
- It will also serve as a forum for its members to inform the Government of their views and concerns, with regard to the Peace Process and also for them to suggest approaches to move the peace process forward. It will be a forum for every one of the varied communities that constitute our Nation, to have their voices heard on this most crucial issue.
- In addition, interested groups could be invited to express their views and concerns to this Council.
- I also hope that this council would serve as a forum for dialogue and advice to the government on measures that need to be adopted for national reconciliation, unity and ethnic harmony.
It is of great importance that I reiterate at this point, that the Government continues to posses the courage and singularity of purpose in executing its duty and responsibility to resolve the ethnic conflict that pertains in the country. We shall not waver in our commitment to seek solutions for a lasting Peace. We remain honestly, totally and forever committed to Peace. We are committed to the hilt to a non-violent, negotiated Peace; we are committed to end the war and armed conflict.
I must underline that we do not intend to deflect our responsibilities, as a government, which we know has to be total, in resolving the problems faced by the Sri Lankan State, whoever may have caused these problems. Let it be known clearly that the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation is not designed and created for such petty and self interested purposes.
My government shall continue to engage the LTTE, who we recognize as the primary actor, in the process of negotiating an end to the conflict and attaining Peace.
My Government's dialogue with the LTTE will be a separate and priority process.
But as a democratic, people's government, we are under obligation to keep ourselves properly briefed of the views and concerns of all our peoples. We are aware that many peace efforts have stumbled due to the non-inclusion of the major players of our body politic in the process.
We believe that any peace process must be open, inclusive and obtain the participation of all the people at various levels. If everyone is not willing to participate, we must endeavour to obtain at least, the inclusion of the majority of our peoples. This is why we believe that a forum or institution such as the NACPR is essential for that part of the Peace Process which should include the participation of the country.
We see the two processes as moving parallel. The Government will engage the LTTE and continue the dialogue with it, through the facilitators, while the Government will separately consult with the country through the people's representatives, within the framework of the NACPR.
The first process is not dependent on the second; neither is the second on the first.
We, the government, have clearly stated views on the resolution of the present conflict. My Government has repeatedly undertaken numerous programmes for the purpose of implementing these policies. We are not looking for ways to move away from our commitment, nor to shove off our responsibilities on the Advisory Council as a pretext to run away from the challenges of the sacred responsibility which my Government undertook to shoulder for better or for worse, when we once again accepted the reigns of government in April this year.
Here I believe that it is important that I reiterate briefly my government's policy on the resolution of the Tamil people's problem.
My governments have attempted since 1994 to adopt a new strategy and radically different attitudes in the resolution of this problem.
We studied and attempted to understand the root-causes of the conflict and the particular form it has taken in Sri Lanka, in a scientific and objective manner.
We arrived at the view that our conflict was engendered by the inability of our nation at the moment of decolonization, 56 years ago, to weld together the separate sets of aspirations of the three main communities living in Sri Lanka, into one collective national vision, in which each community could live freely and in dignity within its own separate identity, in order to comprise one whole harmonious and united whole - a strong, stable and united state.
We recognized that we had to build a new, pluralist, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state based on the cultural, religious and social identity of the majority Sinhala people who constitute around 75% of our population, as much as the two main smaller communities, the Tamils and the Muslims and the tiny groups of Malays and Burghers, who constitute the rest of the country.
We believe that the solution lies in seeking alternatives to the concept of a monolithic, unitary State - to blend power with principle, to reconcile authority with freedom. We are looking at a form of power sharing with a high level of democratic participation in decision making, law making and governance by the regional authorities or the devolved units.
We do not believe that the dismemberment of the Sri Lankan State, demanded by the LTTE through the employment of terrorist means, would in anyway be a solution to the Tamil people's problems.
We are seeking a compromise that would satisfy the aspirations of all the communities of peoples living within our State - a compromise that would be democratic and pluralistic.
We believe that the State must resolve the contradictions that have arisen between the State and the nationalist consciousness of the Tamil community. We have to find means and procedures to accord expression of this consciousness and to give constitutional, legal and political authority.
I quote here from a recent speech I made in New York at the Asia Society; "We have and we shall - do all that is required of a democratic and responsible government, to ensure that we do not return to armed conflict."
But here I must reiterate - we believe that "Peace is more than the simple absence of war". It entails active engagement to identify and rectify the root-causes of conflict'.
On the one hand, we have to address the problems of socio-economic of all disadvantaged groups in the South as well as the North and East, marginalization through an effective programme for poverty alleviation and development. On the other, we have to formulate, in discussion with the adversaries on one hand and the representatives of our polity, new structures and systems to satisfactorily meet the shortcomings and problems faced by the Tamil community, whilst safeguarding the rights and interests of all other communities.
Whilst we believe that Peace has to be negotiated, we do not believe in "Peace at any cost". We believe that the sovereignty, the territorial integrity and security of the State must be safeguarded. We believe in a just Peace, which means not only the just rights of one community or one group within that community, but the just rights of all Tamil people, as much as all other citizens. We believe in a democratic and pluralist polity that rests on the bedrock of the Rule of Law and the guarantee of Human Rights in every corner of the country. We believe in a Just Peace with Democracy.
In our search for Peace and a lasting resolution of the conflict, we have chosen the path of a negotiated settlement because we believe that even the most unreasonable terrorist group may be persuaded without the use of coercion or arms.
My friends, we believe in Life, because we believe in humanity. We believe that even the most ruthless terrorist group must sometime reassume their humanity. We abhor terror and all forms of violence in the pursuit of political aims. We condemn the continuous killings and violence practiced against their opponents by the LTTE.
We do not believe that any problem could be resolved through the destruction of life, the protection of which in the last count, is the only moral justification for the existence of all human institutions, including the State.
We remain firmly committed to our concept of resolving conflict; based on the assertion that most socio-political conflicts (whether they be expressed in ethnic, religious or other forms) have their origins in some form of injustice and unequal treatment. In the Sri Lankan case, my government was the first to publicly accept that the Tamil people have undergone discriminatory and unjust treatment by consecutive governments, although we do not accept and cannot in anyway condone, the extreme responses of one group claiming to represent the Tamil people. If the government is to turn them away from this extremism, we believe that we must begin with finding solutions to the main causes that generated the conflict.
My government is making every attempt to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table from which it withdrew 18 months ago. The LTTE insists that the government should agree to discuss at first only their ISGA proposals. The government's position has been that we accept the concept of setting up an Interim Administration in the interim period, whilst a permanent solution is negotiated and implemented. But, we require a commitment from the LTTE that the Interim Administration as well as the final solution would be based on the Oslo Declaration signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE which declared that the Federal solution should be sought within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. The negotiations with the LTTE as well as the consultation within the NACPR could work out the level and extent of devolution and other details regarding this.
Let it be known clearly and without any doubt that the Government will continue to do all that is required of it to make Peace a reality. Through the consultations which we will engage in at the NACPR we are making an attempt to include, if not all, at least the majority of our nation in this great national endeavour.
We are all aware that the majority of our peoples expect the political parties to work together on this issue. They wish us to arrive at a consensus in dealing with peace negotiations and in reaching a lasting solution to the problem. I am aware that this view is held by a large majority of people irrespective of their political affiliations, which is also a strongly held view of all religious leaders. The International community has also consistently expressed this view.
The experience of other countries demonstrates that conflicts of this nature have been successfully resolved only when it has been approached as a national issue, which cuts across the limiting boundaries of party politics. The South African case is the best example of this. Also in the UK the main political parties have agreed to a common approach when dealing with the Northern Ireland problem.
Since 1994, for ten years, I have made numerous attempts at bringing together the two major political parties, the UNP and the Peoples Alliance (PA). Various proposals for arriving at a consensus and for working together were suggested to the UNP, having overcome many obstacles to obtain the agreement of my Party and our partners in Government. Every one of my attempts have been rejected or agreed to and then promises broken. The UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have declined to participate in this initiative whilst, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) have requested some clarifications.
The leader of the UNP has informed me that he is of the view that consultation could take place after the government begins talks with the LTTE. The process we begin today is a separate exercise as I have stated earlier, which is designed for all of us here to engage in a free dialogue expressing specific views held by each group represented here, in order that the government be directly and clearly informed of your views. This would serve as an essential and most important input into the planning of the negotiations process and the policies and strategies adopted by the government. We, therefore, need your views not only once talks begin but even before talks can get started.
We are all aware that the LTTE too, has held a similar view for a long time. The LTTE leader Mr.Veluupillai Pirabhakaran has stated on numerous occasions that without the two major political forces of the South, arriving at a consensus on the resolution of the conflict, no effective solution could be implemented to the Tamil people's problem. I quote from his most recent statement in this regard in his speech in 26th November last year.
"Whenever the party in power attempts to resolve the Tami issue, the party in opposition opposes it and derails the effort. This mode of conflict continues even when the opposition becomes the ruling party and attempts reconciliation. This Sinhala political drama with its typical historical pattern has been staged regularly for the last fifty years."
"As a negative consequence of this chess game, in which the Tamils are used as pawns, several peace efforts have failed; several peace negotiations collapsed, several peace agreements torn apart and several peace pacts became defunct. As such, the Tamil conflict continues without resolution. The tragic life of our people continues."
I would, therefore, like to urge the leader of the UNP as well as its members to reconsider their decision and to participate in this great national endeavour we commence today of arriving at a national consensus on the country's one single most important problem.
Finally, I would like to state in all sincerity that I truly believe that we are today engaged in a bold initiative that could lead to the much desired collective consensus of our Nation, hoped for by all our peoples. This should have occurred a long time ago, but even now let us attempt to put national interest before our own and dialogue honestly based on what is realistically possible and arrive at the essential elements to attain a lasting and durable Peace.
I have just been informed that the Government of USA has issued a statement two days ago endorsing our views with regard to the Oslo Declaration and calling upon the LTTE to end violence against political opponents and to cease the recruitment of child soldiers. The US Government has also commended me for the flexibility shown by the government in our efforts to arrive at an agreement with the LTTE to renew discussions.
What I am asking of ourselves may be a tall order. The stars are far away. Yet, I continue to hope and believe in this, our Nation's ability and strength to reach for those stars if we work together honestly.
I thank you.