Peace | Speeches

Finding a Lasting Solution to the Ethnic Conflict

52nd Anniversary of the Independence of Sri Lanka

Colombo, Sri Lanka

February 4, 2000

Let me begin today by giving thanks to the people of Sri Lanka. On the 21st of December, 1999, the people of this nation gave me a new mandate to govern as President for a second term.

I am deeply aware of the political maturity and awareness of our people. The fact that they re-elected the PA candidate braving horrendous incidents of bombing and open intimidation of voters by the LTTE, against voting for me in some parts of the country, is a testimony to this maturity.

The bomb incident in the capital of the country, and thereafter the lies that were wantonly circulated by the private media to the effect that I was incapacitated, amounted to psychological intimidation of the voters, while the terrorists engaged in physical intimidation of the voters of the North and East. Against all this, our people loudly and with habitual calm of the Sri Lankan people, decided to choose the PA candidate, returning me as President.

We asked for a mandate to end the war, and find a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict. For the first time in Sri Lankan electoral history a political party faced a major election on a single platform, that of resolving the ethnic problem. The people have given us that mandate. They have also clearly given us their approbation for the achievements and successes of our Government in several other important fields - the restoration of democracy and fundamental rights for all the people, reinstating good governance, the rebuilding of the economy, the development work that we have done, and our great successes in the international field. They have indicated that we should continue along our chosen path of development, in order that we achieve our objective of lasting economic prosperity and political stability.

This Independence Day, I would like everyone one of us to remember why our nation achieved independence. As I expressed on our 50th anniversary of Independence, in 1998, our Independence was achieved in order to enable the Sri Lankan people's will to reign supreme, to achieve economic prosperity and equal opportunity for all Sri Lanka citizens. As we know, this simple and easily achievable aim has been frustrated for almost two decades by this ethnic conflict.

We have been a great nation. We regressed during colonial occupation, but we regained our poise and balance with Independence. Yet, as I said on this day two years ago, despite our many significant achievements since Independence, we have not seriously engaged in the task of nation building. Independence Day is a reminder that we have come a long way since 1948. It is also a reminder to us that we have a long way to go.

The single most important challenge we must collectively take on, urgently is the resolution of the minorities question. For this, we need to continue the work my Government commenced in the sphere of nation building. We must re-create harmonious relations between communities culturally and socially, in every part of the island. We must continue in earnest to offer equal opportunities to every citizen of this country, we must share political power and guarantee all this, constitutionally.

Lamentable cost to our future

For too long, all parties to this conflict have known that it continues at a significant cost to our nation's present and most lamentably, to its future. For too long, we have all watched the magnificent future that we know, can be ours, remain on the far horizon, like a ship that fears to come in to an unfriendly harbour.

For too long, all parties have known that there is nothing to be gained from this conflict. And yet these parties have failed to take the steps necessary to bring this conflict to an end.

However, this Independence Day, I am proud to announce to this nation, that I firmly believe we are finally on track to solve, the ethnic problem in a durable manner. I say with confidence that we the Government and people of Sri Lanka, have at this time, the power and finally, the collective will, to bring into reality our desire for a negotiated peace. We have many times in the past lamented that our founding fathers' great dream for Freedom, had yet to be realised fully. I say now, that we can very soon take pride, in being the generation to realise that dream, in the completeness that was originally intended.

In our celebration of the Independence Day, we must remember that, irrespective of who leads us, we are one Nation. This is also, I believe, the most significant feature of our recent Presidential election. The mood and overwhelming opinion of the electorate, irrespective of political party affiliations, was that our people want an end to this conflict.

An end to partisan rivalry

The majority of Sri Lankans desire consensual politics and governance. I am aware that they wish to see a change in the intensely partisan nature of contemporary Sri Lankan public life. Partisan rivalries continue to curse our media, our politics, our elections and even our public institutions. These rivalries do nothing to strengthen us. Instead, they weaken us and expose us to destruction.

Yet, as with many other things I believe that this is changing. I believe that the people have decided to heal their self-inflicted wounds. The most significant evidence of this change is that over 51% of the country voted 'yes' when we asked them for a specific mandate to end this conflict, even when, in some parts of the country they were intimidated against this.

Since August 1994, I personally, and my Government, have worked unceasingly to seek a negotiated political settlement to the conflict and to end the war. The major opposition group and one militant group, remain constant in their refusal to constructively participate in that process.

I invite one more time, all democratic political leaders to do battle for their country by reaching a consensus on the means of resolution of this conflict that has dogged us far too long.

Then, we would have reached agreement between all democratic political parties and groups representing all our peoples - the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher citizens of Sri Lanka.

Invitation to the LTTE

We will also invite the LTTE to participate in this noble and great process with us all. The LTTE has a vital role to play in concluding this extended sadness for the Tamil people, the LTTE must also recognise that assassinating Sinhala and Tamil leaders and innocent citizens can never resolve the problems of the Tamil people or the minorities.

It is urgent that we end the heartless violence of terror and its result - the war. All those who support the perpetrators of terror must even now decide to persuade them to adopt the strategies of dialogue and negotiations. This is the only path to free their people from the shackles of oppression and terror of all types. We cannot sacrifice any more lives at the altar of anyone's cause. Let us together resolve problems, and achieve all our dreams, while preserving and protecting the lives of our children, instead of driving them to kill and be killed. The only path, known to man, for attaining this goal, is the path of dialogue, negotiations and conciliation. We will continue to seek dialogue because we truly believe that the future that the Tamil people dream of, and that we desire for all Sri Lankans, can ultimately be achieved by our collective efforts, within a process of dialogue.

Friends, Sri Lanka is currently imperiled by internal threats to its stability and to the safety of its people. Meanwhile, the global economy that we seek to integrate with, and benefit from, demands of us vast changes in the way we live, the way we educate ourselves and the way we work. The global economy demands intense competition between nations. However, our ability to respond effectively to these challenges is undermined by our internal ethnic conflict. So long as this conflict remains, we cannot deploy our full ability to compete in a globalised world and bring the benefits to our people. To all our peoples.

The Sri Lankan Dream

We know that all Sri Lankans have great dreams for their personal and collective future. The people of the North and East dream of living in security and prosperity. Thousands of soldiers dream of returning to their homes and families. The people of the South dream of an end to terrorism, the war and of prosperity. I say to this nation, that today, is the day for every Sri Lankan, every Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher to wake up to the fact that these dreams will not become real until we take concrete steps to make them so. Today is the day to say "enough" to the misery of this conflict.

I therefore invite all Sri Lankans irrespective of their political beliefs to join with me and my Government in the process of Constitutional Reform, formulation of a new political culture, and the re-building of a new Sri Lankan nation