|Sunday, 16 February 2003|
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Editor, Sunday Observer.
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By next Saturday, a whole year will have gone by without the country being torn asunder by war. The Ceasefire Agreement, signed last February 22nd provided for the guns to fall silent and, since then, they have remained silent.
There have certainly been continuing minor violations of the ceasefire Agreement, or, 'MoU' as it is popularly known with reference to the memorandum of agreement signed between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both sides have been accused of such violations. Nevertheless, none of this has pushed the general situation in the country towards renewed fighting.
Rather, the continued commitment to the MoU, despite the violations, over the past twelve months, shows the strength of the on-going Sri Lankan peace process. Even the failure of a significant initiative taken under the peace process - the setting up of a sub-committee to implement the de-escalation of military activity - has not resulted in any move toward resumed war.
The LTTE, which has been making several demands pertaining to a military de-escalation, having concluded that it was not getting anywhere in this regard, decided not to participate in this sub-committee.
However, the LTTE leadership did not think that that deadlock warranted the termination of the ceasefire.
Similarly, the Government has continued to find what it considers to be violations on the part of the LTTE, in the form of suspected abductions of under-age youth for the purpose of conscription into the LTTE forces. There have been at least two significant instances of what seems to be un-mistakable attempts at arms smuggling by the LTTE. However, the Government has not allowed these incidents to affect the general atmosphere of relaxed tensions. Thus, the Government too has remained firmly committed to the ceasefire.
In all, Sri Lankans may congratulate themselves on a major achievement: one of the longest periods of relative peace in decades of war.
That this is an achievement of not merely the Government and the LTTE, but of all Sri Lankans, must be acknowledged. After all, both the Government as well as the LTTE are dependent on a popular base for their political actions, even though the Government's popular base may be seen to be obtained in a manner characteristic of formal democracy whereas the LTTE's organisational base may not have such democratic trappings.
What is clear is that all, or most Sri Lankans, of all ethnic hues, have tired of war to a degree that their main political leaderships dare not easily transgress those parameters of a desired peace.
It is only a relative peace, however. That is, there is no actual fighting. But, at the same time, there is no sign of the attainment of a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict by which means any future outbreak of war could be avoided.
Even as Sri Lankans step into a new year sans war, hopes must now leap forward to that greater goal of a permanent peace.
In this too, there is reason for optimism. Both sides have already agreed on the general conceptual terms of a future comprehensive political settlement. 'Federal', a word once bandied about as an epithet by some of those leaders who advocate it, is today fast gaining acceptance as a minimum form of political structure that would satisfy the needs of the peace effort.
What is most needed is a strengthening and deepening of the national political will towards a just and comprehensive settlement.
The people have already clearly decided. The majority of Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups have shown their electoral support for political leaderships that are working towards peace by means of political power-sharing and a re-structuring of the Sri Lankan polity for these purposes. It is the political leaderships that seems to lag behind and it is they who must now take the great leap forward.
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