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.