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Geneva 2 and the challenge of peace

Geneva Talks: Whatever the outcome of the current round of Geneva Talks between the Government and the LTTE, the question should not be as to who can win the war in Sri Lanka, whether it is one of low or high intensity. The Government's commitment to a negotiated settlement of the long drawn out conflict, demonstrates its abhorrence of violence, and appreciation of the need to usher in peace through dialogue and understanding.

However, there is another important question that many seek to ignore. It is the situation of the Tamil people. When can they find an end to their woes, and more importantly, when will they begin to live in peace, together as one people with the others for whom Sri Lanka is home.

The key to this is whether the LTTE can extricate itself from the situation of violence and confrontation it has put itself into, and give more thought to the suffering it has caused to the Tamil people, whom it claims to liberate.

The absence of a settlement of the issue through negotiation no doubt haunts the Tamil people, much more than it worries the other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. It appears that for all the bravado of the LTTE, seen in its many statements about achieving its goal of Eelam, it is hoping to weary the Government through a prolonged war, in the hope that the tide of world opinion will turn in its favour.

It is important that the LTTE is made aware that this is a wholly unrealistic expectation, and does not do any good to the Tamil people.

Separation is not a topic for discussion. However long the armed conflict may drag, no government in Sri Lanka will be able to agree to help the LTTE achieve this goal. That is the reality the LTTE has to be factored into all its strategies in dealing with the Sri Lankan Government.

The current round of talks takes place in the context of a new political development in the South. The understanding between the SLFP and UNP, given shape in the MoU signed by the two parties, brings a change to the scenario of negotiation and the search for a solution to the long burning crisis.

If the commitment of the two main political parties in the country to work towards reaching a negotiated solution as promised by the MoU remains firm, we will see a departure from the politics of recrimination and cheap scoring of political points that has bedeviled this issue for so long.

Going by the experience of the Tamil people and their political parties since 1957, the LTTE has repeatedly stated it cannot place its trust in any pledge given by a government in office, as the next government would not abide by the agreements reached by the former, especially in the area of ethnic relations. There is now the hope that this is a thing of the past.

The coming together of the SLFP and UNP in a new resolve to find solutions to key issues acceptable to both parties, should take the earlier fear away from the LTTE and the Tamil people. It is pointless discussing today as to how Liam Fox failed or the failure of PTOMS.

There is now a new beginning, initiated by the President himself and supported by the Leader of the Opposition. The success of this new understanding will also depend on the LTTE's own re-assessment of developments in the South, instead of sticking to its long held positions.

What is needed today is a strategy for disengagement by both sides. No doubt this will also mean an honourable disengagement. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, true to his pledge during the Presidential Election, has walked more than the proverbial mile, in seeking an understanding with his main political rival in the South. This shows his willingness to walk even further in the search for a genuine and lasting peace, which will be good for both the North and the South.

The need for peace

Although we are all opposed to terrorism and violence, terrorism is certainly not the tree to be barking up just now. This is the time to look at a more conciliatory approach in the true spirit of conflict resolution.

The Sri Lankan negotiators are not unaware of the LTTE's past and its continuing commitment to terror. Yet, they face a daunting task of trying to extract the maximum possible in areas that point towards peace and mutual understanding.

Rigidity of approach, whether encouraged by journalists, commentators or political parties that have their own agenda, is not the substance of negotiation, which is more concerned with a policy of give and take.

It may be a clich today, yet what is very much needed just now is a road map to peace in Sri Lanka. We need to clear the path to peace, though the All Party Conference, the Committee of Experts, and the organizations of civil society that are genuinely interested in peace, rather than those that bandy the word for profit or other ends.

Peace is needed not just for development and economic growth, which are not bad goals. It is needed even more to overcome the many crises that Sri Lankan society face, in a galloping rate of violence, the disregard for law and order, the erosion of traditional values, and the overall breakdown of the social fabric. The country and people are urgently in need of a path of restoration from all the tragedy of the past several decades of division, mistrust and violence.

If the current round of talks in Geneva can begin paving the way for that to open that road to peace, it would have achieved much more than expected. It is for this that the good wishes of the people will be with both delegations meeting in Geneva.

Reporters without borders

Reporters sans Frontieres (RsF) or Reporters without Borders, the Paris-based organization the monitors press freedom and the threats to journalists is a well-known name in the field of media freedom. It has often been forthright in its condemnation of threats to media freedom and dangers faced by journalists.

However, in the matter of the recent transfer of the Editor of the Sunday Observer, RsF uncharacteristically showed that it had scant regard for the ethics of journalism itself, and propriety, in issuing a statement in the matter.

In a statement issued on October 17, RsF sought to drag President Mahinda Rajapaksa into the issue involving the transfer of the Editor of the Sunday Observer. The Rsf statement said: "Instead of sidelining critical editorialists, the President should concentrate on taking measures to resolve the serious crisis sweeping Sri Lanka and to ensure the safety of the media, which have repeatedly been the target of violence."

It was necessary to point out to Rsf that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in no way interested in the transfer of the Editor of the Sunday Observer, and also that the President of Sri Lanka did not want gratuitous advice from it on matters of governance.

The response from the Presidential Secretariat said: "President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has not been in any way interested in the transfer of the Editor of the Sunday Observer from his post. This is a matter wholly within the purview of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., the publishers of the Sunday Observer.

Any suggestion or imputation that President Rajapaksa was in any way responsible for the transfer of Abeynayake from his position in the Sunday Observer is wholly unjustified and not borne out by facts.

President Rajapaksa does not require gratuitous advice from Reporters without Borders on what requires his concentration in the political developments in Sri Lanka and how he should resolve political issues in this country, including ensuring the safety of the media."

The response added: "It is regretted that Reporters without Borders has thought it fit to issue this statement, which refers to the President, without verifying the relevant facts about the matter at issue from this office. This cannot be too much to expect of an organization concerned with safeguarding press freedom."

Seeking to uphold press freedom is one thing, but even international organizations that are active in this field should know the importance of verifying its facts before issuing a statement.

RsF had a reply from the Chairman of ANCL too, on the same matter, to the effect it had not bothered to verify the facts of the matter with him. It was a pathetic response that RsF gave regretting being unable to contact either the Chairman or anyone else from the Lake House management to obtain their view on the issue.

Here's hope that such well known organizations observe the basic decency or verifying one's facts and also not being too niggardly in apologizing when their error is pointed out.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka
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