Peace | Speeches

Ethnic Conflict Needs a Final Solution

Presidential Election Speech as Candidate for People's Alliance

Colombo, Sri Lanka

December 14, 1999

The time has come for all of us collectively to focus our minds on the most important question that faces Sri Lanka today. The ethnic conflict in our country has gone on for almost two decades bringing great misery to our people and impeding economic growth. This war has seriously eroded our moral values. The cult of violence has taken root in our society. It is only a common effort by all our communities that can find the final solution.

From the days of my youth, I have been deeply concerned by the minorities' problems in our country. I have spent many long hours and years studying, discussing and reflecting on these problems. The political basis of my thinking has been deeply influenced by the principles contained in the B-C Pact, formulated by my father and the Hon. Chelvanayakam. When the UNP stirred up racial discord during their 17-year reign of darkness. I together with my husband Vijaya, travelled into the Sinhala heartland, from village to village, speaking to the people of the need to understand the problems of the Tamil people and the minorities. We told them that the only durable and viable solution is a negotiated political settlement, and that violence from either side could never resolve the problem.

Then from 1993 onwards in all the major election campaigns, I gave the same message to the people. I took immense risks, regarding my personal safety, as well as my political future. Rarely has a political leadership from the South had the courage and the vision to openly state the truth about the minorities question. The resounding victories given to us by the people in 8 rounds of elections since 1993, gave us the strength to forge a new programme to rebuild national unity.

We formulated and presented proposals for extensive constitutional reforms, with the objective of creating a Sri Lankan society in which the Tamil people and other minorities would enjoy constitutionally guaranteed rights and privileges as equal citizens of this country. Our proposals embody clear* and concrete measures for the devolution of political and administrative power from the center to the regions. We recognize that the Northern and Eastern regions where a preponderance of Tamil people live, are entitled to a meaningful sharing of power.

Our vision also embodies the guarantee of physical safety and safety of property for all citizens. It ensures them of equal opportunities in education. employment and in every other sphere of our society and economy.

Here I wish to add that, I am convinced that a division of the country could not serve the interests of either the Sinhala or the Tamil people. It would have catastrophic consequences for the future of separate States in Sri Lanka. In every case where a united country has been divided, nothing but misery has ensued for both States created out of one. A very large number of Tamil and Muslim citizens of Sri Lanka live and work in the greater part of our country peacefully, among their Sinhala brothers and sisters. It is my duty to take good care of all our citizens, specially the minority communities. We shall therefore not permit this country of ours to be divided into separate States.

My Government has done much to ensure that the Tamil people were safe and secure everywhere in the country. It shall be so, for so, for so long as we hold the reigns of government. The eta of fearful uncertainty for the Tamil people is now over. Even under the gravest provocation, there has been no repetition, during my tenure of office, of the terrible events that occurred between 1977 and July 1983. The Tamil people will never forget these episodes in our history - of unparalleled trauma. Surely, the Tamil people will never forget that "Black July" occurred during the regime of the United National Party. That as a result of the violence, thousands of Tamil families left the country in the fear that even their basic physical security would not be guaranteed by the Government?

Their departure from our shores was a grievous loss to our society. We lost many of the ablest sons and daughters of Sri Lanka, who were an immense credit to their motherland.

During my tenure of office, the I-TTE unleashed, as before, brutal violence on civilians in various parts of the country. The bombing of the Central Bank and a commuter train full of passengers were examples of civilian terror, which the LTTE used as an instrument of war. No one can ever forget that on the eve of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of our Independence, the LTTE bombed one of the world's holiest shrines of Buddhism, the Dalada Maligawa. These and numerous massacres of a Senior Buddhist monk and of innocent villagers, were highly provocative acts designed, to trigger massive reprisals on the part of the Sinhala community. It is sad to note that the UNP leadership attempted actively during these events to provoke the Sinhala people to racial violence. My Government, under my personal direction, did all that was in our power to ensure that not a single Tamil person was harmed. I am truly proud of the degree of restraint shown by the Sinhala people on these terrible occasions.

I now take this opportunity to apologise to the Tamil citizens of this country for the inconvenience caused by the various security measures we are compelled to undertake, in order to protect our citizens, Tamils, Sinhalese and others, from the constant attempts of LTTE suicide killers, to cause havoc. We have made serious attempts to minimize the inconvenience and harassment caused to all of you. As a responsible government, which considers that it is our bounden duty to ensure the safety of every single citizen, we cannot take the risk of leaving innocent citizens to the vicious attacks of the LTTE I earnestly request the Tamil people to bear with us a little longer for your own safety, until we find an early solution to the conflict.

We have discussed extensively our constitutional proposals to end the war and resolve the ethnic question in Parliament, in the country and with all concerned parties and groups and in particular with the UNP.

I repeatedly requested the Leader of the UNP to participate with us in the resolution of the Tamil problem. He consistently evaded involvement in the national debate, made no constructive suggestions of his own, and indeed consciously delayed an early implementation of the resolution to the problem. Now, in the last days of the presidential election campaign, he seems to suggest as a solution, a vague formula, involving the creation of an interim administrative council for the North and East. This is far less than what we have proposed in our constitutional reforms. Anyway, my Government has already taken action to set up just such a Council, long before the thought dawned on the UNP. Having stated that he would hand over the North and East to the LTTE for two years, the UNP candidate seeks now to deny having made such a highly irresponsible statement. If this is what the UNP offers as a solution to the gravest problem that our country has ever faced, all I can say is that they have offered to our people a monumental insult to their intelligence. Our people will not be seduced into accepting a solution, so bereft of thought and reflection, as a means of ending the war.

My Government has always endeavoured to replace the traditional conflictual politics we have experienced in our country, with a culture of consensual politics. I believe our two greatest victories in the sphere of nation building are:

Firstly, that we have brought most of the forces representing the Sinhala people in Parliament, together with all the political parties representing the minorities.

Secondly, that we have succeeded in persuading the Sinhala majority, that there is an ethnic problem in this country and that its only viable resolution lies in a politically negotiated settlement. My Government has succeeded for the first time in independent Sri Lanka in effecting a vast transformation in the thinking of the majority Sinhala Community. I created a new Ministry for Ethnic Affairs and National Integration which implements many programmes to promote the building of a new Sri Lankan Nation.

On the same principle, we embarked on the task of promoting a dialogue with the LTTE, no, sooner we assumed office. The LTTE broke off, after 8 months, this dialogue unilaterally and went back to war. I have often stated publicly even after the hostilities recommenced, that we are prepared to open negotiations with the LTTE as soon as they demonstrate some sincere commitment to eschew their politics of terror and engage honestly in a negotiated settlement.

I am aware that a few third parties have attempted, during the past two years to persuade the I.TTE to re-commence a dialogue with the Government. The LTTE has not responded positively up to date. In this context, I fail to understand the assurances given by the LTTE that they are seeking a dialogue, when they have clearly refused such a dialogue, when practically proposed.

I am able to understand the pain and feel the sorrow of all those of you who have lost their close friends and relatives in this terrible violence. I too have sacrificed a father and a husband on the altar of another form of political violence, which prevailed in this country. I wish to ensure the Tamil people, that I am equally concerned as you, in seeking an end to the war and a resolution to the ethnic problem.

We have succeeded in obtaining the support of every single political party and group representing the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people. We have the agreement of the majority of the Nation. The UNP and the LTTE are the only two groups that stand alone in their constant commitment to a refusal of the resolution of the Tamil people's problem.

My Government was unable to implement the constitutional proposals as we do not possess a two-thirds majority in Parliament. We have now evolved a scheme by which we could bring in a new constitution even without the two thirds majority. For this, we need a clear and massive mandate from you and all the peoples of this country. I am confident that the Tamil people are awaiting the day when the Government of Sri Lanka would guarantee their rights, to say a resounding "NO" to the politics of terror and violence.

Friends and fellow citizens, my Government remains totally committed to ending the war and bringing in a new era of peace. I do not wish to bequeath upon our children the horrors that you and I have lived through in the past decades. Let us together march into the new Millennium with peace and in harmony, to rebuild a new Sri Lanka brimming, with the vigour and vitality of an enlightened and united Nation.