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Saturday, 23 September 2017
Saturday, 23 September 2017 | Sri Lanka Watch
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Reconciliation needed after celebration PDF Print E-mail
The phase of public celebration reached its climax with the victory commemoration event and military parade of last Wednesday at Galle Face Green.  In a manner that accorded with the past traditions of rulership of the island, President Mahinda Rajapaksa received scrolls from the commanders of the security forces apprising him of duties well done, and of victory, the end of war and the unification of the country.

The President’s speech focused on a victory that that was once said to be not possible and appreciated the sacrifice by members of the security forces and their families.  He said that the secret of victory was the people who sacrificed their children and loved ones for the nation and to save the lives of others.

The President also spoke of the need to win the hearts of the Tamil people and to ensure that they were protected so that they could live without fear and mistrust.  He referred to Sri Lanka as the Motherland of us all in which we should live without difference.  He asserted that the war fought against the LTTE was not one against the Tamil people and that the troops had sacrificed their lives to liberate the Tamil people, in what the government had described as the world’s largest humanitarian operation.  He honored the people of the South who having sent their children to the battlefield were now sending cooked food to the displaced people of the North.

The President also gave his appreciation to those sections of the international community especially from those neigbouring Asian countries who had supported the government, and whom he described as having honest, close and friendly relations with Sri Lanka.   Countries such as India, Pakistan and China are countries that supported Sri Lanka with military assistance during the time of war and are now supporting it diplomatically in the face of post-war calls by the United Nations and Western countries for an independent human rights probe into the end phase of the war.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently added his voice to this demand, which has been rejected by the Sri Lankan government.  In his speech, President Rajapaksa called for a new era in foreign relations to safeguard the country’s newly won freedom.

SAME GRIEF

No less a practical peace maker than Nelson Mandela is quoted as having said we need to make peace with our enemies and not with our friends.  One lacuna in the President’s speech was the absence of reference to the sufferings undergone by Tamil families whose children perished in the war.  Some of them would have joined the LTTE out of conviction, and others would have joined because they had no choice or were forcibly conscripted.  But the grief of those families would be the same, and needed to be acknowledged.  Many of those grieving families are in camps for the displaced and so their suffering is all the greater.

The government also needs to acknowledge the contribution made to Sri Lanka by countries beyond its Asian neighbours. The international bans placed on the LTTE by the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union in particular contributed to the delegitmising of the LTTE worldwide.  The suspicion that the Western countries were trying to save the LTTE in the last phase of war, by their calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and surrender of LTTE leaders to a third party, must not negate the contribution made by those countries to Sri Lanka’s long term development since its Independence.

An example of reaching out to the other that the government might wish to consider was the speech delivered by US President Barak Obama to the Muslim world from Cairo University.  The US president addressed some of the most contentious issues that have divided the people in the United States and also in the world.  In his speech, President Obama held to long established US positions such as Israel’s right to exist, and to the historical truth of the Holocaust.  He also emphasized the long years of suffering of the Palestinian people and their right for a state of their own, which is also a position that President Rajapaksa has upheld during his long years in Sri Lankan and international politics.

President Obama’s speech was also noteworthy on account of his willingness to be self-critical about the wrongs committed by the United States in the past.  He referred to the US role in toppling a democratically elected Iranian government in the past, and to the use of torture in anti-terrorist operations till the present, which he had ordered to stop.  The element of self-criticism contains the core of reaching out to the other who has been perceived as an enemy.  Where there is self-criticism there is the awareness that the whole truth does not lie with oneself, but that the other’s position too contains truth, which requires dialogue to understand and to accommodate.

NO RESTING

Perhaps it is still too soon after the war in Sri Lanka for the spirit of reaching out to the other and to be self-critical to infuse the thinking and speech making of government leaders.  It is only about three weeks since the LTTE was defeated in the North in a terrible battle that has led to calls for international probes into human rights violations. After the Second World War, in many European countries the search and persecution of Nazi collaborators went on for months.  Likewise, today the search for LTTE remnants, LTTE collaborators and traitors in the South is on.  There are statements by government members that unspecified media persons and NGOs have been in the pay of the LTTE.  The checks by the security forces continue and there is still tension in the air.

The abduction and brutal assault on Poddala Jayantha, Secretary of the Working Journalists Association by an unknown group of men in a white van, and the threats leveled against the Centre for Policy Alternatives to conform to the expectations of the unknown party that has written to them, have taken place in a post-war context where the discrediting and labeling of people as anti-national is being taken to an unprecedented level.. Acts of this nature not only undermine the government’s commitment to freedom of the media but also cast doubt on its claim to have ended the politics of terror by defeating the LTTE.

Now that the government has curbed the LTTE’s terror it is time for the government to reach out to those who were on the other side of the divide, if Sri Lanka is to move forward united as a country in the manner that President Rajapaksa has been exhorting.  Words are the easier part, but words are the evidence that the thoughts do exist, and thoughts are the forerunner of both words and deeds.   The words that those who want peace and reconciliation are waiting to hear are what will constitute the government’s proposal for a just political settlement, which includes the resettlement of the displaced people and the protection of human rights and media freedom.  Liberation from the tyranny and undemocratic rule of the LTTE is but a first step, and there can be no resting on those laurels.

 --- By Jehan Perera

 
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