Wednesday, 4 December 2002  
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New possibilities that need to be seized

The silent majority in this country which has been wistfully yearning for steady, concrete progress in the peace talks, is likely to be encouraged by the news that the current round of Government - LTTE negotiations in Oslo would be taking up some "core" political issues, which the main parties had considered advisable to be discussed at a later date. However, the Government side's conviction that the LTTE is now comparatively flexible and accommodating on questions such as power sharing, has enabled political issues to be placed at the top of the agenda in the current round of talks.

This development could be considered a crucial quantum-leap in the content of the negotiations. While, initially, the local public may have expected core political issues to be negotiated by and by, once the questions relating to the material well being of the people were thrashed out, the virtually unexpected broaching of political issues sets the stage for negotiations on a stepped-up tempo. Besides, the promise is held out of less prolonged negotiations.

What makes this dramatic narrowing of differences between the sides possible is the LTTE leader, V. Prabhakaran's Heroes' Day statement that his organisation is willing to consider regional autonomy as a viable alternative to Eelam. This was followed by an elaboration of the same idea in an interview given by the LTTE's chief negotiator, Dr. Anton Balasingham. Progress in peace talks is not possible without compromises and by shelving the Eelam demand, the LTTE could be said to have made a major compromise.

However, one of the most important conditions for progress in negotiations of this kind are compromises by all major parties. Accordingly, the Government side too would be required to make compromises for the facilitation of the peace process. Consequently, we do not see how forward movement could be registered in the talks without the State readily taking up for consideration power-sharing arrangements which would meet minority political aspirations.

We do not wish to prejudge any issues on the negotiating table, but cannot see how the peace process could be taken to its logical conclusion without the Lankan State being restructured.

We believe it is our duty to raise these possibilities because, very many people do not realise that peace carries a price. While we could be considered as having come some distance in view of the LTTE's decision to shelve the Eelam demand, a clinching peace deal wouldn't be possible if minority political aspirations are not accommodated within a devolved power structure.

Therefore, as we have right along pointed out, an attitudinal and conceptual change at the popular level is as important as a formal peace deal on paper. While the State needs to marshal all its resources for the promotion of such mind sets which are receptive to the working out of a negotiated settlement, the State also needs to ensure, in double quick time, that no gains are made by anti-peace elements in the propaganda war waged by them. This point too we have frequently made, although we do not see many concerted, concrete moves to act on it.

We could say that a mighty hearts and minds battle awaits the State and those forces which favour peace by peaceful means. There are sections which consider multiethnicity anathema. There are those who are blinded by a mindless rage on hearing the term power-sharing. There are still others who openly espouse hegmonism. These could be described as anti-democratic opinion - the peddlers of majoritarianism.

While these elements are coming out into the open, the promoters of peace need to take them on in a contestation of ideas lest they steal a march on peace makers in the hearts and minds battle.


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