Whither Peace in Sri Lanka?

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Whither Peace in Sri Lanka?

It is the season of festivities, but Sri Lankans are bracing themselves for war. In the North

and the Eastern Provinces, there is tension and fear mounting daily. The past month has

seen a steady increase in acts of aggression violating the cease fire agreement between

the government and the LTTE. There is not a day when the news reports fatalities caused

by claymore mine blasts, shootings or similar acts of violence.

Politician killed in Church

On Christmas morning, the nation awoke to the news that Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham

MP for the Tamil National Alliance party (TNA) was brutally shot dead while attending

Christmas service at St. Ann’s Catholic Cathedral in Batticaloa (Eastern Province) on the

24th night. There is speculation that the LTTE’s rival fraction which broke away from the

LTTE and has a strong hold in the East was responsible for the killing.

The slaying of any human being in a place of worship must be condemned by all society,

irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliations. It is a grim reminder of the days

when in 1985 Sinhala Buddhist devotees worshipping at the sacred ‘Sri Maha Bodhi’ in

Anuradhapura were sprayed with automatic gun fire killing 189 devotees and 1990, in

Kathankudi 103 Muslims praying in mosques were brutally murdered.

Mr. Pararajasingham – a Roman Catholic, was a voice against the proposed anticonversion

laws, and encouraged his party, the TNA to oppose the legislation. While

many would not agreed with his politics, his stand on this issue must be commended.

Christians in the North and East celebrated Christmas on a very low key, amidst tension.

Shops and offices were closed and public transport came to a stand still as a ‘hartal‘ was

called to protest the slaying of Mr. Pararajasinhgam. For those of us who live in the city,

a visible indicator that all is not well is the increased military presence in the city of

Colombo and suburbs with check points and armed guards.

Playing hide and seek

During the past weeks, several dozens of military personnel were killed in attacks or

ambushes. These include claymore mine blasts of vehicles carrying military personnel in

Batticaloa, Mannar and Jaffna. The latest of these attacks occurred yesterday (27th) on

the Jaffna- Point Pedro road, where a claymore mine blast killed 11 soldiers.

There are accusations and counter-accusations regarding acts of violence made by the

Government and the LTTE. Violence in any form and the taking of another human life in

particular cannot be condoned or justified under any circumstances. Where it appears that

both sides are guilty of excesses, if this trend of violence is left un-addressed, it is only a

matter of time before it escalates to a full scale, unbridled resumption of hostilities.

During the past month, since the election of the new President, there has been no change

or progress in resolving the country’s ethnic crisis which has seen 20 years of fighting

and over 100,000 dead. The Government and the LTTE failed to agree on a venue for the

next round of peace negotiations.

While the newly elected President H.E. Mahinda Rajapakse made statements that he was

ready for talks with the LTTE and Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran the leader of the LTTE in

his Hero’s Day speech in November stated that he would give Mr. Rajapakse time until

2006 to initiate a solution; the rumblings of war beneath the surface are too loud and too

real to ignore.

Divided we fall

War will bring with it not only its usual horrors of death and destruction, but a myriad

other ills. It will negate any progress made during the past 2 years in mending fences

between estranged ethnic communities. The aftermath of the Tsunami devastation saw

neighbourhoods and communities where previously hostility reigned, unite and offer each

other a helping hand. It was a ray of hope for peace; changing hearts and minds. Another

bout of hostilities will re-kindle flames of mistrust and suspicion between

communities and sow seeds of hatred. Taking a lesson from our history, Tamils will

remember the anger and frustration they felt when searched and questioned by the

military, while their Sinhala friends kept silent. Similarly, Sinhalese will remember the

anger and frustration they felt by Sinhalese when the LTTE bombed civilian targets in the

city and their Tamil friends kept silent. Neither may have articulated these feelings to

each other, but deep within there was created a divide between “us” and “them”.

War will also offer a golden opportunity to those who wish to fan the flames of religious

intolerance. An ‘Anti-terror’ façade can be used effectively by anti-Christian elements

against churches and Christians, perpetuating the Buddhist extremists’ accusation that

Christians are aiding and abetting terrorism.

It was Neville Chamberlain who said that “in war, which ever side may call itself the

victor, there are no winners, but all are losers”. The average Sri Lankan – irrespective of

race or religion, would echo his thoughts. A return to war would undoubtedly nail the

coffin of peace in our land.


Roshini Wickremesinhe