Sri Lanka: Contemplating A New Approach to Resolving the Sri Lankan Conflict

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 14 15:18:06 UTC 2006

Abstract of paper presented at the Annual Conference of the UK's Conflict
Research Society, Aston University, Birmingham, September 6 2006

Revisiting History : Contemplating A New Approach to Resolving the Sri
Lankan Conflict

The armed conflict in Sri Lanka is moving to a new phase of violence and
war. Past attempts to reach a negotiated settlement and a peaceful
solution to the ethnic crisis have given few results. At each occasion
when a government was elected with a clearly-expressed mandate for Peace
(which was the case of the 1994 Presidential Elections that brought former
President Mrs Kumaratunga to power, and the 2001 General Elections that
brought former PM Ranil Wickramasinghe to power), the successive peace
moves seem to come to a virtual standstill within a few months. New
approaches, in the Sri Lankan context, have therefore been rather
short-lived in the past. We propose to read such failures as the direct
consequence of a strongly apparent unwillingness to solve the ethnic
crisis. This leads to a sheer lack of inclusion (of all the key elements
concerned) within a peace move.

In this paper, we wish to outline a totally new approach to the resolution
of the Sri Lankan crisis, one that begins with a constructive effort to
reach ethnic consensus. We develop the argument from the standpoint that
the Ceylonese/ Sri Lankan case is an extremely sensitive issue, and that
any attempt to resolve the conflict not only requires high levels of
strategic creativity, involved diplomacy and thorough knowledge of
conflict management, but also a deep understanding of Ceylonese/Sri Lankan

Thus, the new approach to be developed in my paper may be called one that
entails Revisiting History. Contrary to the bilingual language policy and
the general discourse announced by the Rajapakse administration[1], the
present Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (DSRSL) can never come
to terms with her problems and see the future in a new light until she
assesses them in the backdrop of her colonial, postcolonial/Commonwealth
(i.e. post-1948 Dominion and post-1972 Republic) past. The present
conflict came to being due to a set of reasons deeply steeped in this
history, and it is there that the key to its resolution lies. We may
thereby highlight the inextricable link between conflict resolution and

In the Sri Lankan issue, if peace was the case before 1948 (and, amidst
tensions, up until 1972), it is only a reformation of the State apparatus
that would make the island reach ethnic inclusion and peace. Policymakers
of the South are simply unprepared to contemplate anything of this nature.
As the present Foreign Minister contends, the sovereignty of Lanka is
non-negotiable[2] for the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). In-keeping with
the Sovereign State principle, learning from lessons of history may lead
Lanka to peace. The greatest strength of the proposed New Approach would
be the creation of a dialogue that leads to understanding, within all
parties concerned.  Conflict resolution skills should be deployed in
creating a forum that makes each party understand the realistic paths that
may be taken in reaching a state of civil peace. This may lead to the
gradual conclusion on devolution and affirmation of the Tamil communitys
fundamental right for self-determination.

As it was mentioned previously, the sovereignty of Lanka could be kept
intact and the Tamil self-determination affirmed through one pertinent
solution: strengthening Lankas position within the Commonwealth of
Nations. Conflict Resolution initiatives stand as the best path to get
there, and a new approach of going back to history is a promising starting

[1] Where all public servants will be encouraged to be bilingual

[2] Statement made in the course of a speech delivered at the Norwegian
parliament recently. The full text of the Foreign Ministers speech is
available at:

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