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Idea Forum : 'One Sri Lanka, two systems'

by T. Patmakumar, General Secretary, Ilankai Tamil Sangam, USA



Refugees of the North

Many armed conflicts of the post-Cold War period occur when governments, hijacked by one ethnic or religious group, abuse the populations of other groups which are thrown together in one country. The new wisdom for solving these conflicts is to provide greater autonomy to the abused populations in an attempt to maintain a stable state. If the government is a dictatorship, external pressure to share power may allow this autonomy to be effected by fiat. If the government is a democracy, ruled by the 'tyranny of the majority' population, decisions to allow a part of the country more power over its own affairs may be stymied by nationalist sentiments without substantial external pressure and incentives.

In a globalizing world, it is recognized that a government abusing its own people has not only a moral impact on the rest of us, but also tangible effects on refugee flows, trade, health and regional stability. Addressing this problem, in 1999 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that, "if states bent on criminal behaviour know that frontiers are not an absolute defense; if they know that the Security Council will take action to halt crimes against humanity, then they will not embark on such a course of action in expectation of sovereign impunity" and "states are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of their peoples, and not vice versa."

In Sudan, a dictatorship has been interested in acquiescing to more autonomy for Southern Sudan in return for better relationships with the outside world and a secure income from oil wealth. A ceasefire is in place, foreign monitors are trying to safeguard civilians, the government has agreed that the people of the South have the right to self-determination and a referendum on secession.

The June, 2002 Machakos Protocol stated that "the people of South Sudan have the right to control and govern affairs in their region", but also "the unity of the Sudan, based on the free will of its people...shall be the priority of the parties." The Center for Strategic and International Studies has called this a 'One Sudan, Two Systems' approach. However, negotiations are going on shakily at the moment about power and wealth sharing. The International Crisis Group and others report that strong international engagement remains the key to buttressing the still-fragile peace process.

In Sri Lanka, a ceasefire has held for over a year and a foreign monitoring mission is in place to verify compliance. The rebel group has agreed that, if the Government provides the Tamil areas with substantial autonomy and authority over their own affairs, then they will remain within the confines of the single state.



Refugees of the North

Because Sri Lanka is a nominal democracy, however, it is now being said that the people of the Tamil areas cannot "have the right to control and govern affairs in their region" because this is not possible according to the constitution. The Government does not seem to have sufficient strength and/or will to change the constitution to allow a 'One Sri Lanka, Two Systems' arrangement. Here is where the outside world can lend a helping hand. On June 9 Japan has called a donor conference to pledge funds for the reconstruction of the war-devastated areas in Sri Lanka.

The donor countries and the international aid organizations must make it clear that the funds they pledge in Japan will go directly to the areas where the need is greatest and that the indigenous administration can best provide for those impoverished by war without the obstruction of the central government.

At a conference in Oslo last December $70 million was pledged for immediate humanitarian needs and the World Bank has been designated the funds' trustee. Sri Lankan legal impediments have assured that next to none of this money has yet reached the people most in need under the current system of dispersal channelled through the capital. For 40 years the unitary Sri Lankan constitution has been the major source of problems between the various communities on the island.

The outside world can productively guide Sri Lanka out of the current impasse by helping to set up interim extra-constitutional mechanisms which will allow the responsible dispersal of funds to the war-devastated population.

*************************

Honouring those who thirst for peace

by Dr. Narme Wickremesinghe, Consultant in Occupational Medicine and former Chairperson, Rana Viru Seva Authority



Disabled soldiers - they thirst for peace too

June 7, each year is a day the nation remembers all its war heroes and their families - the living, maimed, missing or killed, all those who sought and are even now establishing the writ of Government throughout Sri Lanka. This year President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga will join thousands of families of those killed and missing in action at the national Remembrance Park, Mailapitiya (-16 kmg from Kandy on Raja Mawatha/Randenigala Road) to light a lamp in honour of their loved ones who sacrificed their lives on behalf of the rest of the nation.

In this environment, let us remember that 21,000 members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police were lost in action, over 10,000 permanently maimed, several thousands injured during 20 years of strife and even today thousands of troops are stationed in the North and East. They loyally stood by the Government and people of Sri Lanka. They should not be forgotten. Like in all other nations, we must honour them and their families. We must care for those who dare. The USA has its Memorial Day on May 26, Commonwealth countries have their Remembrance Day on the Sunday closest to November 11, European countries have their Victory in Europe Day on May 8 and we in Sri Lanka honour the dead and living war heroes and their families on June 7.

The Dhammapada says, "One day in the life of a person who strives towards perfection is better than hundred years in the life of an indolent, idle person". The Bhagvad Gita says, "This soul dwelling in the bodies of all can never be slain. Do not mourn". The Bible states "No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends". The Quran says, "Every soul shall taste death. To God you shall be recalled." These are inscriptions from the Scriptures found at the 4 shrines at the National Remembrance Park, to console the visitors. No, we will not mourn. We remember and honour them with pride because their short life attained the perfection of patriotism. We will remember with gratitude those who sacrificed life and limb for us.

There is a strange concept amongst peace lobbyists that to honour our patriots is against the peace process. Certain media administrators prevent any news about honour being given to the Forces and Police for the same reason. Last year for the first time, there was no full or electronic media coverage for Ranaviru Day, for the Dedication of the National Remembrance Park, or for the Remembrance Day ceremonies, but there was repeated prime time coverage for the Maha Veera Day commemoration in the North.

After the peace Accord (MoU), the donations to the Ranaviru Seva Authority to the Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa Trust, to Ranaviru Sevana, to the Welfare Directorates of the Armed Services and Police have dropped to almost zero. But who needs peace most? To the business person strife means loss of profit, to the economist war means loss of investment, to the politician, depending on the hue and with rare exceptions, cessation or contribution of hostilities means votes; but to the soldier, sailor, airman, or policeman, and their families, battle means loss of life and limb.

It is the Armed Forces and the Police and the families who have experienced grief, who thirst most for peace. But they do not want to feel that they wasted all for nothing. They need and want peace, but a peace with dignity and honour for all people, a peace that enables equality and equanimity of human rights throughout the length and breadth of One Sri Lanka.

A human story

Karunawathie's husband has been Missing In Action (MIA) for the past 5 years. Initially she denied that this was a reality because the body of her husband was not available to be seen. As a result she could not perform a religious ceremony or give an alms giving as a symbol of the end to the grieving process. She was angry with herself and the world that she was left without a partner after one year of marriage, and ostracized by her in-laws and neighbours that the fate ("Karume") was because of her bad luck. She bargained that things could have been different if she did not allow her husband to be so patriotic. She went into depression - she was crying all the time and had a sense of haplessness about the future; she neglected family chores and could not join in wedding or New year festivities, she could not sleep and lacked energy during the day; she was irritable with everyone, sometimes going into an uncontrollable rage; she isolated herself and sometimes through of suicide.

Yet, and often, hope surged in her that her husband will return and the loneliness and pining will be over. Then again she felt guilty for the loss, withdrew herself from the company of others, and again became disorganised and went into depression. This was the up and down situation for 5 years, living in hope and grief - a Yo-Yo situation causing severe psychological stress and depression.

The last year, the Ranaviru Seva Authority (RVSA) put her in touch with their Ranaviru Women's Group in Gampaha. She realised that there were other women who coped better with their loss at the RVSA empowerment workshop. These women were being trained in various occupational skills by the Sarvodaya Economic and Enterprise Development Services (SEEDS). She chose to be a seamstress, became a leader of a micro-enterprise in the RVSA women's Support Group and started sewing garments and selling their products at the Mahapola, every month. She became busy and occupied.

There was profit too. She became normal again - no more crying, no more alienation, indeed she is now a creative organiser. She was now getting on with life, whilst not forgetting the disaster of her loss. Her child too is now better adjusted - permeating her drive to the child who was formerly neglected without a father nor an effective mother. Life has changed for the family.

This is the story of many wives and mothers of heroic persons who gave all to their motherland. A hundred of them visited the National Remembrance Park, in Mailapitiya (Kandy) on International Women's Day this year. It was a poignant moment. Not a tear was shed, though it was a sad occasion. Children were rubbing their fingers on the names of their fathers inscribed in stone. But no more crying and isolation. They remembered with pride, and life had to go on.

This is also the story of some of the medically retired disabled who the RVSA arranges to be trained in an occupational skill with the voluntary assistance of vocational trainers, private companies (eg. Commercial Bank) and NGOs (eg. IDEAS - Initiatives in Development of Entrepreneur Approaches and Strategies). They too have experienced loss of a limb or a body part and go through the same grief and depression as the women victims of strife, often with greater manifestation of the symptoms and with added marital problems. Psychological empowerment workshops have been arranged for them by the RVSA and they say that they are coping much better now.

Or Ranaviru Day, June 7, 2003 thousands of widows together with the President and other VIPs will offer Itipahan Pooja in memory of fallen heroes at the national Remembrance Park (NRP). This is a 25 million rupees joint project of the Public sector (led by the RVSA), Private Sector (led by the Ceylon Tobacco Company), and the Armed Forces and Police (led by the Army). Private individuals and the corporate sector are continuing to fund the independent maintenance of the NRP, which is on the theme 'Peace and Life arises from Death and Strife'.

The NRP is situated on the Kandy - Randenigala Road in Mailapitiya in a tranquil atmosphere of hills and the back waters of the Victoria Reservoir with plants and blowing winds that depict the theme of peace and life. The 21,000 names of the fallen are inscribed in granite plaques placed at an angle as in an open book (rather than erect as found in cemeteries) and in landings according to Forces and Regiments. The RVSA in association with the Armed Forces is presently engaged in publishing the names of disabled, missing, and killed in action for preservation for posterity in the national Archives. The NRP too is for the same purpose, with the names etched in stone, for future generations to honour and remember.

At the entrance is a large stainless steel metal monument of three pipes ascending to the skies to join at the apex. It depicts the national respectful gesture of our pluralistic nation in honour and salutation of the missing and killed in action since the Day of Independence in 1948, who have made it possible for future generations to live in peace, dignity and equality. The monument stands amidst 4 shrines of the main religions in Sri Lanka and a naked eternal flame in a traditional Sri Lankan brass lamp. A symbol of a large artificial eternal flame is also seen in the adjoining hill.

A former Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Denis Perera was the livewire who got the NRP going at the instance and concept of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The former Chairpersons of the RVSA, the former and present Adjutant Generals of the Army and Vijaya Malalasekera and Lakshman Nugawela of the CTC, were the instruments to effect the NRP project. Mano Ponniah and the late Turner Wickremesinghe were the architects - the former won and award for the lay out of the NRP at this years Architects Convention Priyantha Kulatunga and Chamil Samarasinghe of the RVSA were the Project managers.

Ranaviru Seva Authority

The RVSA was established in June 2000 by the President under a Parliamentary Act, to attend to the psycho-social and welfare needs of the MIA/KIA families, the disabled in action, and the combatants. Its work is done totally by donations from the public who donate to specific projects, and transparency is maintained by linking the donor to the recipient or to the type of work done.

The projects are as follows: 1. The Housing Project, 2. The Education Project, 3. The Skills Project, 4. The Disabled Persons Project, 5. The Transit Camp Project, 6. The NRP maintenance Trust and 7. The Psycho-Social and Welfare Project.

So far 856 houses have been completed (a further 281 are being built), 1,539 scholarships of Rs. 500 monthly are being given, 3,992 placements for vocational training found, 175 medically retired disabled trained in a skill, 600 befrienders trained in 7 provinces, psychological empowerment programmes held for the disabled and war affected women, Ranaviru Women's support groups formed in Gampaha, Kalutara, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala and Monaragala and referred for training in micro-enterprises to Sarvodaya SEEDS, psychosexual workshops held for women soldiers, Sebala Mithuro help desks established at Army Transit Camps, improvement of physical conditions at Transit Camps and a new one planned to be built in Ratmalana, 480 land alienation requests done, welfare requests totalling 17,321 attended to the first National Remembrance Park in Sri Lanka constructed.

Those who wish to care for those who dare may send their donations to the RVSA, No. 27, Independence Avenue, Colombo 7 (Telephone No. 01-662331-5, Fax No. 01-662336, e-mail: ranaviru@sltnet.lk and rse@mail.ewisl.net

The Ranaviru Seva Authority, its staff and its donors will always stand on the side of the Armed Services and Police and their families - and continue to honour and assist them. Ranaviru Day, the month of June and the Ranaviru Kusuma Programme at the District level are symbolic times to show that the Nation is with the heroes.

All gave some and some gave all
Some stood through for a nation
so true
And some had to fall.
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties
and recall
Some gave all.
(- A Country and Western)

www.peaceinsrilanka.org

www.singersl.com

www.crescat.com

www.srilankaapartments.com

www.2000plaza.lk

www.eagle.com.lk

www.helpheroes.lk


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