Saturday, 27 March 2004  
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Unswerving commitment to peace

President Kumaratunga's reiterated commitment to evolve a just solution to the ethnic conflict which would satisfy the interests of all our communities, should relieve many an overburdened mind which is filled with anxieties of the future.

Addressing an UPFA election rally in Matara recently the President said that besides finding an "all-inclusive solution to the ethnic question," her government "would not let anyone divide this country. We will rebuild a peaceful nation where all citizens can live with dignity."

This is not the language of division, discrimination and segmentation. This is the language of a universalist who is thinking in the broadest, democratic terms. It is the langauge of human rights and equality - just two concepts which would not occur in the firebrand rhetoric of ethnic chauvinists and narrow nationalists.

If at all Sri Lanka has to be rebuilt, it is on this conceptual basis of ethnic equality, power-sharing equal participation in governance and human rights. Divorced from this conceptual framework, Sri Lanka has no future and we are glad that the President is not hesitating to point to these essential foundational elements in the rebuilding of Sri Lanka.

While the Government waxes eloquently on its perceived gains on the peace front, it seems to be forgotten that peace in Sri Lanka was President Kumaratunga's pet project.

The seeds for this visionary project which were laid in 1994 when President Kumaratunga romped home to victory as the "Peace Candidate," continues to inspire her political imagination.

It must be recalled that this grand vision would have concretely materialized even to a degree, if, first, the Tigers had not stalled it in 1995 and the then opposition in Parliament, the UNP, had not churlishly burnt copies of the year 2000 draft constitution in the august precincts of Parliament itself, in late 1999, during the relevant debate in the House.

One may recall that the President was not even given the opportunity to present her case in Parliament, although it is now accepted that the year 2000 draft constitution contains a stable foundation for negotiations. Bullying, boorish behaviour was the only response to the President's attempts to outline her constitutional proposals for a settlement.

It must be also recalled that it was President Kumaratunga who coopted the Norwegians into the peace process and laid the groundwork for this exercise which is being claimed by others as of their making.

We say all this to re-establish President Kumaratunga's credentials as a peace-maker.

There is clearly no need to have reservations about her suitability to forge ahead with the peace process in the future.


Unifying Cyprus

Cyprus, the beautiful Mediterranean island, was divided 30 years ago when Turkish troops invaded its north. Efforts are now underway to end this conflict by reunifying Cyprus before it joins the European Union (EU) in May.

Greece and Turkey have joined rival Cypriot leaders in UN-sponsored, four-way negotiations at a Swiss resort near Lucerne. The talks are based on a UN plan envisaging a united Cyprus of two loosely confederated ethnic zones.

The UN wants a deal by March 31, which can pave the way for a united Cyprus to enter the EU. The UN envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, insists the talks must usher in a settlement text that will be put to separate referenda in the two Cypriot communities in April.

The main factor that propelled the Greek and Turkish sides to talk peace was the EU membership bid of the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot south. The implications are clear: Only the Greek Cypriot side will be admitted to the EU if talks fail. It will also affect Turkey's European ambitions as its 30,000 troops in Northern Cyprus would technically be occupying part of the EU.

The two sides will have to address serious issues as they seek unity. The return of Greek Cypriot refugees, the amount of territory each side will control and property compensation for those who lose out under a UN-plan for the reinstatement of dispossessed owners are among them.

Greece must also use the talks, and a settlement, as a springboard for resolving its territorial and air control disputes with Turkey. A settlement will also enable Greece to reduce its defence expenditure, an election promise of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

His Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan must be equally bold in the bid to bring peace to Cyprus. He must resist pressure from nationalists who advocate Turkey's military presence in Cyprus as a strategic necessity.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, represented at the talks by Mehmet Talat, Prime Minister of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Tassos Papadopoulos must also overcome the obstacles that derailed earlier talks in Nicosia.

If the two sides, together with Greece and Cyprus, reach a settlement, it will be a prime example for the unification of a divided nation through peaceful means. The proceedings will be watched keenly by countries experiencing similar problems.

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