Peace | Speeches

An Era of Peace and Prosperity

Inaugural Meeting of the Sudu Nelum

Colombo, Sri Lanka

July 8, 1995

An era of Peace and Prosperity

We are aware that the Sudu Nelum Flower - White Lotus - symbolizes the lofty values of peace and purity and prosperity. May I join all of you who are assembled here in expressing the hope and wish that it will be possible to usher in an era of peace and prosperity - an era of genuine brotherhood - to our country now pushed in to the abyss of hopelessness through separatism and a cruel war.

In the context of our culture, from ancient times the White Lotus symbolized purity and prosperity. Similarly, the colour white indicated peace. Though it stems from a muddy pool, we know that the Lotus is second to no other flower in beauty and fragrance. Let us today resolve to strive indefatigably and unflinchingly to cause peace, prosperity and brotherhood to emerge triumphantly and gloriously from the morass of ethnic conflict, just as a serene White Lotus emerges out of the mud and turbid waters of a pool. That, undoubtedly, is the aspiration of all the common people of this country, irrespective of all differences.

We very well know that our people have been living in this country for some thousands of years. We know that in our country, which boasts of a recorded history of over 2,500 years, several ethnic groups of people have been living peacefully together. We are aware that from as far back as the arrival of Arahath Maha Mahinda bringing the message of Buddhism to this country, that is, from a time of over 2,000 years, people of various races came over to this country and lived together in peace.

From ancient times, people of various parts of India - from the South, North and West of India migrated to Sri Lanka and made it their home. Not only that, we know that even from Burma a small group of people came over and settled down in this country. From far away Arabian countries too, people came here and we know that their descendants even to this day live in certain parts in Sri Lanka.

It is clear that these various communities belonged to various races and religions, talked different languages and had their own separate cultural identities. But the indigenous population, along with all these different communities, could develop into one united Sri Lankan nation, shaped and nurtured mainly by a Sinhala Buddhist Culture. Yet, in the recent past, for a period of about 500 years, our country came successively under the alien rule of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, until we regained our national freedom in 1948. But the long foreign rule left to us a land on which the seeds of divisiveness and separatism had been widely sown.

Our failure to mould and develop a common Sri Lankan identity and a character in the social, cultural and political spheres, weaving into the national fabric the several ethnic groups that live in the country, has indeed, to be considered a tragic shortcoming. As such, it would not be wrong to say that the greatest challenge, before all of us today, is the building of a strong Sri Lankan nation with a common Sri Lankan identity and a character, bringing together the different ethnic and religious groups such as Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians and the Muslims.

We, Sri Lankan people, have today scored a remarkable political victory after 17 years of untold suffering, harassment and struggle to defend democracy. In the enjoyment of that victory, our people earnestly look forward to the fulfilment of very many aspirations. Many people from our villages complain that they have not got employment opportunities. Some are bitterly critical that the implementation of our proposed development programme has not been

pushed forward with sufficient speed. Certainly, it will not be difficult for us to realize these objectives through proper economic development. But, I wish emphatically to impress upon you, that we will not be able to properly and adequately, enjoy the fruits of economic development as long as communal conflicts - specially, the ethnic conflicts in the North-East rage and the rest of the country too is embroiled in it. You will see, that we have just started launching, a very clear economic policy to again bring on to proper lines the economy of this country which the previous government had brought to utter ruin. But, a war started again in the North-East which compels, in the minimum, the expenditure of 5,000 million rupees on National Defence. Just when our parents, throughout the country were heaving a sigh of relief that the era when dozen after dozen of the dead bodies of their sons who were fighting in the North-East were brought in coffins to their villages, had ended, this terrible inhuman war started again and, their villages, again began to witness such tragic sights. Once the minorities of this country, mainly the Tamils, and to a certain extent, the Muslims had to wage a big struggle to gain their fundamental human rights and their economic rights. They carried on their struggle by democratic means for a long time, and later on, thinking that they would be able to realize these objectives quicker by violent means, started a war which has brought immense destruction.

After 1977, the Tamil people had reason to think that even the meagre opportunities they had to get their problems resolved, had got further restricted. There came into exsistence, a government which thought that, instead of finding political solutions to the problems of the Tamil people by democratic means, of discussion and dialogue, they could be resolved by mayhem and intimidation of people by cold blooded murder - murder by even burning people alive. That government committed these crimes, not only against the Tamils. They practised state terrorism against all of their political opponents, making no distinction of race or creed, and sought to keep people under suppression through violence, and its rule lasted for over 17 years.

As a result, the youth of the South rose up arms in hand, and practising the terrorism taught to them by the government, surpassing even the methods and tactics of that government, inflicted a terrible devastation in the area. The youth of the North, having crossed over to South India on the sly, organized and equipped themselves very well and came back to Sri Lanka and launched a destructive war which has been going on for about the last 13 years.

Although, at the initial stage, the Tamil people did not extend open support to this struggle, they indirectly or in their heart of hearts, had some sympathy for it. The idea emerged in the minds of many Tamils, that they should demand a separate state, because, they thought they had no other means or alternative to win their rights. They thought so, not because they had any special desire to live in a separate state. This idea gained popularity, not because Tamil people living in the South, including the prosperous Tamils who have been living in Colombo for generations carrying on lucrative business and acquiring considerable wealth there, wished to migrate to Jaffna for good. They thought so, because, they could think of no other way to have their problem resolved.

Today the People's Alliance Government has convinced, almost the whole of the people of Sri Lanka, that it is possible to build one country where Sinhala Buddhists, the vast majority of the population, and the peoples of various other minority communities and religions, including Tamils, could live together as one people bound by a sense of brotherhood, enjoying full AV equal rights. My dear friends, under this new set up, there is no place for any racism, religious intolerance or separatism. I think it is hardly necessary to point out to you that if we continued to be divided, if one community selfishly struggled to enjoy greater privileges than others, keeping the rest of the people under suppression, we would lose our much cherished Motherland. The most important question before the country today, is not whether the Sinhala Buddhists would manage to gain a position, where they would be able to live a better life than others. Nor is it, whether the LTTE in the North, which seeks to annihilate all others who are opposed to them - even those of their own community who differ from

26them - will be able to establish a rule of theirs. The real question before all of us, is whether Sri Lanka will be able to continue as one country into the future, tiding over the present crisis. Because of this unwanted war, for the last 12 years, we have been wasting a massive amount of resources that could have been used to turn Sri Lanka into one of the most developed countries in the world. The valuable lives of nearly one hundred thousand of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim youth, whose labour and talents could have been utilized to economically develop this country and who would have provided leadership to that economic development, have been lost. I believe, the conscience of any one of you will not fail to inform you, if honestly consulted that our country will not be able to face this destruction of resources any longer, without a serious threat to our very existence.

The great challenge lying before us today is not just stopping this war. I wish to remind you that the greater challenge, is that we should find political solutions to the central problems which have become the causes of this war, so that a repetition of it would not occur.

It is no secret that this is not an easy task. All the rulers of this country, from 1948 onwards, faced this problem. All the previous governments avoided directly confronting this problem and finding a durable solution to it. There were reasons for that. But I am not going to go into these reasons here now. In the course of all the important political events of last year, we declared to the people, that we would directly accept this challenge. Specially, in the 3 main elections held in 1994, in the course of our election campaigns throughout the length and breadth of this country, we declared that fact, and secured a mandate from the people to implement that proposal.

That is why we took action, within a few days of our coming into power, to formulate a solution to this problem. But, certainly, it was not the North-East question solely that attracted our attention. We also, as Ministers and Members of Parliament of yours, took steps to address problems of economic, social and cultural development of the people, in accordance with the pledges given by us. I believe 60 to 70 percent of my time was devoted to this effort and we worked, 16 - 18 hours per day in handling these tasks. We, in regard to these matters, evolved a very clear policy and a programme. We were quite aware that the peace effort was not going to be an easy one. My regret is that many people in this country, including some journalists who preach on all matters to the people, have failed to understand the substance of the peace proposals. When taking action to put a stop to a destructive war like this, when seeking to remedy so pestered and ulcerous a wound on our national physique, we can ill-afford to spend so much of time on controversies on solutions. No country in the world which has handled such questions successfully, had done so. But in view of our commitment to the policy of transparency we follow, we have informed our people on all possible occasions as to what we were going to do. It is clear that as much as we are, the people of the North are also weary of the war and are yearning for peace. Since we were quite aware of this fact, we bent all our efforts to win over the people of the North-East to the peace effort. We took many steps to realize this aim. With this objective, we had discussions with the LTTE. Holding discussions with the LTTE was only one aspect of our peace effort. The most important objective of the initial stage of our talks had been to win the support of all the Tamil people, to the peace process or to our side. Here, by 'our side' I do not mean the SUP or the PA. Here, by 'our side' I mean the peace effort. I am happy to state that in this regard we have already scored great success.

Today the people of the North, as much as the people of the South, have realized that the existing government is making quite an honest effort to find a solution to the ethnic problem. Today, the great majority of the Tamil people stand convinced, that since this government is honestly seeking to solve the problems of the Tamils, and also of all other minorities of the country, it has become unnecessary to pursue a war for that purpose. Today, in disregard of the wishes and aspirations of the Tamil people, only one Tamil organization is carrying on a war. That organization is the LTTE. Since it was the LTTE which was responsible for the war, we had to have discussions with them. As some people allege, we have never been naively believing in the word of the LTTE or have been deceived by them. We had a clear understanding as to what the ME was saying. If we had not understood that the LTTE was an organization, which believed in terrorism and murder and they did not hesitate to murder even their colleagues as means of resolving problems, we certainly would have been utter fools. Even with that knowledge and estimate of the LTTE, with whom were we to discuss except the LTTE, which pursued the war? Were we to discuss, instead, with the editors of the newspapers who wrote editorials arguing that it was because of our naivete that we had discussions with the LTTE, to seek an end to the war? If some enemy jumps in front of us armed with lethal weapons, threatening to kill us, we should either be able to strike him down with our own weapons straight away or, if we are for moment not able to do that, we must talk to him to arrive at some agreement. We have had recourse to the second course of action. We very honestly, as a government committed to democracy, made an effort to see whether it was possible through dialogue to get them to agree to some solution. When we had talks with the LTTE it was not only them we had as our target. We also had our sights fixed on the people of the North who formed the power base of the LTTE. We thought their influence would make the LTTE to change its views. History abounds with instances, where such influence and pressure succeeded in bringing about changes of attitudes in people. But now, through that effort of ours, we have made it plain to the Tamil people as well as to the international community, which through direct or indirect means extended support to the LTTE, that the LTTE is not an organisation that will respond to such influence.

As we have been very honest in seeking peace; as we as a government went to the maximum limit possible to realize peace, the whole world has come to the conclusion that it is the LTTE that is at fault. It was at a time when all aidgiving countries and organizations, including the World Bank had refused to give even a red cent in way of aid since the two previous years to the then existing UNP government, that our government came into power. Why had the then government been refused any aid by all aid-giving countries and organizations? Those countries and organizations had done so, on the one hand, in way of a rejection of the wrong policy followed by the UNP government in regard to guaranteeing of human rights in relation to the whole country, and on the other, as a protest against the then government's failure to make any genuine effort to put an end to the war in the North. It should be noted that these countries had urged continuously during 10 years of the 12 year period, the then government to adopt a positive policy as regards human rights and the war in the North and in view of the government's failure to respond positively had stopped all aid since the beginning of the last two years. But now, these countries are eagerly offering generous aid to us. At the Paris conference of the aid-giving countries, just 10 days after the I-TTE resumed its war, breaking the cessation of hostilities agreement, we were able to secure more aid than the UNP government was able to secure in respect of one whole year. In fact, the negotiations for obtaining aid was in progress, when the LTTE re-started the war. We were still in Paris happily reflecting on our success at our aid negotiations and hardly 12 hours had elapsed since that event, when we heard that two of our aircraft had been shot down at the Palaly airport. We continue to receive the agreed aid for development. Further, the devastated North and the East has to be developed, but under the existing conditions, we cannot launch on the North-East development. For the development of the East, a number of countries have agreed to give outright grants (not loans). This happy situation has dawned, because, we find at the helm of affairs in aidgiving countries, very intelligent, informed and experienced statesmen who are quite unlike the local newspaper editors I referred to and some persons who shout out in vain in the Parliament.

The LTTE has very cruelly disrupted the first stage of the peace negotiations on 19th of April without any substantial reason for it. They are unable to offer any acceptable excuse for their action. Now our government has launched on the second stage of the peace process. For the last three months we have been engaged in the war for ushering in of peace. This war for peace, is not one waged against any community living in our country. Now, here, I would like to remind you of some statements I made in the course of an address to the nation, soon after the LTTE restarted its war. I said, "I would like clearly to state that if we failed to realize peace through peaceful means, our government will not hesitate to have recourse to some other effective means for the enthronement of peace". By that statement we do not mean, that we will wage a war to destroy the Tamils. We will wage war against only the LTTE which rejects peace which, all people including the Tamils, so earnestly desire.

Some University Professors and academics have developed a frenzy today to preach racism, as if they have no other use" thing to do. There are, also, some Parliamentarians who subscribe and give publicity to their destructive ideas. You know that, when recently the Dimbulagala High Priest was cruelly assassinated by terrorists, these elements engaged in an effort to start a racial conflagration in the country, similar to the one that engulfed the country in 1983. Police investigations have revealed that fires in Galle had been started by some people, who belonged to a certain political party. I also must point out to you, that on the two days prior to the day (Saturday) on which the funeral rites of the dead prelate were conducted, it was a certain Member of Parliament of the same political party, that tried to put up on the walls of Colombo some highly inflammatory communal posters. We are investigating into these actions. Action will be taken against the offenders. Several people had made statements on the matter. It is, strangely, the people who put on a very innocent look, dressed in pure white like 'upasakas' who commit these grave offences.

My dear friends, it is my belief that you all, specially the Sinhala Buddhists, have gained the recognition and respect of the whole world as a noble people, who live up to lofty Sinhala Buddhist values, and they have already gone down in world history as such. At the most terrible and most violent racial conflict that occurred in 1983, the great majority of the Sinhala people, took no part at all in the cruel actions committed. It is no secret to you all that violence was inflicted by groups of thugs belonging to the then ruling party, deployed at various points in the cities. But their effort to rouse up the people of the whole country with racial hatred, did not succeed. There are several other instances where various elements, had tried to rouse up people. The last occasion was the Presidential Election of 1994, when in the course of the election campaign Mr. Gamini Dissnayake, was assassinated. A great effort was made, even by making use of the opportunity provided by our government to give TV Broadcasts for the election campaign, to provoke the people. Inflammatory posters were put up every where, "Thilakas" were painted on the forehead of my face on my pictures on posters. It was the members of a certain political party which did all these things. There are also several other small - size Sinhala "heroes" of different hues who subscribe to the same hate campaign. There are some professors and doctorates holding academics among them. But on this occasion, we bow our heads in salutation to you all who remained calm, composed and steady without being swept away from your stride by the campaign of whipping up feelings, like the legendary Mahameru rock, and trod the right path of peace and sanity chosen by the people as a whole.

I believe that Sinhala Buddhists, as well as the other people living in this country, know fully well that the attacks made on us by the terrorists will be surely and successfully met by the armed forces of the government. We have chosen to have recourse to this approach, because there is no other alternative left to us. Dear friends, I assure you that this time our retaliatory action on the enemy will be effective and successful. I hope you all will, extend, not only your good wishes to it, but also your active support. We will militarily react in this manner, because we are not prepared to take the enemy blows lying down and perish. Yet, we believe that this is not a question, that can be resolved only by military means. Even though we may inflict defeat on the I-TTE in the North, the problems of the Tamil people that have arisen and grown in the social, political, economic and cultural spheres of the national life, have to be fairly resolved. Similarly, the problems of other communities of the country too should be resolved to ensure fair play to all. Unless this is done we must realize another LTTE could very well emerge in the future. We suppressed the JVP in 1971. But by 1988, another JVP much more ferocious and powerful came into existence. Today, Wijeweera is not among the living. He will not come back to life. But if the social economic and cultural problems faced today by the people of the South are not resolved, another Wijeweera may very well emerge in the South, in the future. While we take measures generally to resolve the social, economic, political and cultural problems embracing the whole country, we earnestly do everything possible to solve, on a lasting basis, the ethnic conflict which stands in the way of resolving all other problems. I must emphasize that the lasting solution to that problem should be none other than a political solution.

Today the whole of the North has become a virtual inferno. If at least some sections of the inhabitants of the North have been for 12 long years, living amidst untold hardships and continue to this day their fight, there ought to be some serious problem which impel them to do so, It would have been hardly possible for Prabhakaran to force the youth of the North to carry on a fight against authority for 12 long years. But, it is true that he some times forces unwilling youth to join in the war. He does so now very often. But, undoubtedly, there is a serious problem that needs speedy solution. In answer to this problem our government has formulated a series of political solutions, drawing also on studies done, ideas expressed and proposals made by various individuals and bodies over a long time.

Our package of political solutions is presently being discussed, specially, with political parties representing Tamil people. Under the direction of Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, this process will continue during the few weeks ahead. Shortly, this package of political solutions will be put before the people of this country for their consideration.

You are well aware of the details of the war going on in the North-East. 1, therefore, do not intend to dwell on them on this occasion. But, I must say a few words about the misinformation now being often dished out about it by various people. Dear friends, today the newspapers say various things about this war. We appreciate the need of these newspaper institutions to push up their sales, and we do not interfere with their right to say anything they like. If we act differently, we would be called upon to find jobs for their personnel also, who will be thrown out of employment. These newspapers say that the terrorists have now surrounded the Palaly Camp, preparations are on by the terrorists to attack it from all sides, soldiers experience a food shortage and they eat boiled unripened Papaws for want of anything else to eat At the very start of this resumption of the war, we had all this sort of thing looked into. While in all of these military camps, there were stocks of dry rations sufficient to last at least 6 weeks, some had enough quantities of them to last as long as 6 months. But, it is true after the terrorist attack, due to some temporary difficulties, it had not been possible to transport to these camps greens, raw vegetables and fruits. We would like to remind you that our armed forces at the time of the last regime had almost been abandoned to carry on a destructive war, without having been provided with proper direction or a proper plan of action with clear objectives. They had been at times led to adopt communal stances. But, under our leadership they came to be provided with clear direction and a proper and well thought out plan of action with clear objectives to be achieved. Further, we took action to work a radical transformation in their attitude towards the war, in that we made them to realize clearly that ours was not a war waged against the Tamil people, but it was a war directed at the LTTE which fought even against the cherished aspirations of the Tamil people. Even yesterday, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatta had travelled by air and visited the camps in the North. There had been no missile attacks on the plane he flew in. He is in a position to give us first hand information because he visited and made a personal inspection of the camps. He has assured us that the morale of the soldiers in them is very high and they are prepared to fight with determination to win.

Today, through this Sudu Nelum Movement, we seek the support of all of you to the efforts we make to realize peace. It may be war at one moment, and political moves again at the next moment. Even discussion might start if appropriate conditions emerged. In all these efforts whatever their nature may be, we earnestly solicit the support of all those who value peace, the people of all races and religions, the people- speaking all languages and the people belonging to all political parties.

All need not take up arms and go to the battlefronts of the North-East and be in the thick of battles. We all cannot do that. But we can help our heroic soldiers fighting in the North-East in many ways. Also, on the political front, we need the valuable assistance of you all who provide political leadership to the people in the villages. Now we are in the process of readjusting the relations between the various communities on correct and wholesome lines eschewing communalism after some centuries. In this difficult exercise, we need, your assistance to guide and strengthen this readjustment preventing a relapse into attitudes based on racism or separatism. In this regard we expect you to play a tremendously great role. You all know better than any of us, about the life of the facilities of soldiers living in villages. Organizing yourselves on a political basis through the Sudu Nelum Committees we set up in the villages, you could do a lot of social welfare work to help these families.

Also, you should through these committees help in the holding of the funerals of the heroic soldiers who sacrifice their lives in the defence of the country, in a fitting manner. You also can help swell the funds of the National Defence Fund. Today we do not use the monies of the NDF to buy weapons; we use them only for the purpose of the welfare of the soldiers. You can participate in the sale of Sudu Nelum Flags that we will be organizing shortly, you can go from house to house in the villages you live in and sell these flags and collect funds for this valuable cause.

The people of the villages bordering on operational areas too are living amidst serious threats and hardships. They do not have many of the services and goods necessary for their day-to-day living. They do not have prop transport facilities. Traders who used to visit these villages to ply their business now do not do so in view of the fears they entertain about their safety. The villagers do not have pure drinking water in sufficient quantities. Already, our MP's have begun visiting these villages in organized groups to see to the nee( of these innocent villagers. Under the Sudu Nelurn Movement, we hope to do this on a better organized scale. Also the armed forces camps in places accessible to us experience numerous shortcomings - not in respect of their needs of military ware but as regards their welfare. Our Parliamentarians expect to visit these camps too under the Sudu Nelurn Movement and do everything possible to provide the day-to-day needs of our soldiers. Further, we have 'already started, propaganda campaign to counter the racial and separatist ideas that have beef spread among the people during the recent period of our history, causing disunity among the people. You can under your leadership and guidance, start discussions seminars and cultural events in your village to remove these misconceptions Sudu Nelum Movement has also a separate programme for students. We hop( to launch this programme within the next two weeks in consultation with the Minister of Education.

In short you could do a lot in the area you live in, and in the areas accessible to you to consolidate the gains made by our heroic soldiers in the battle fields to bring peace to the country, even facing the risk of having to sacrifice their very lives in the process. You can take part in the effort to build a Sri Lankan State of which all of us could be proud of. We invite you to take up this great challenge through the Sudu Nelum Movement.

Let us resolve to work with determination to keep the Sudu Nelum Movement that blooms today, without fading for a long time to come. If the people of all of our communities - Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher and of all religions join hands with a sense of brotherhood, "White Lotuses" of peace will bloom in tens of thousands in their hearts. Peace is the prerequisite for our prosperity. Our fervent appeal to the people on this occasion is to come together bound by a deep sense of brotherhood and create a durable peace which is the foundation for our development and prosperity.

This effort, most probably will necessitate a re-examination, a refashioning and a cleansing of some of the attitudes and ideas we held so far. We may have to rectify certain mistakes we up to date unwittingly committed. I would like to point out to you that the Sudu Nelum Movement has presented to you a good opportunity to engage in this exercise of self-examination and self-purification. For this I thank, on behalf of all of you, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, the organizer of the Sudu Nelum. Movement. I also take this opportunity to thank, the leaders and the members of all the parties of the People's Alliance Government and the people of all ethnic groups and religions, for the unstinted co-operation extended to the good efforts of the government. May White Lotuses of Peace bloom in the hearts of all of our people!

I thank you all.