[lg policy] Sri Lanka: Peace – Let us build it, urges Kumar Rupesinghe

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 15 21:41:07 UTC 2009

Peace – Let us build it, urges Kumar Rupesinghe

Published by editor Sri Lanka Jul 15, 2009
Kumar Rupesinghe

 “Throughout my 25 years in this field,  I have dedicated myself to
the pursuit of peace, to seek means of preventing conflicts, to
promote preventive diplomacy. I helped to form the National Anti War
Front and organised many demonstrations against the war. Our position
was to persuade the parties to reach a negotiated solution, said Kumar
Rupasinghe, a controversial political pundit of Sri Lanka.  Given
beloew the excerpts of his interview, almost a first person testimony

 Question:  Dr Kumar Rupesinghe, you have spent most of your life
working internationally and locally for peace and reconciliation. What
is your view of the ending of the war in Sri Lanka?

 Answer: Wars within countries always come to an end. Intrastate
conflict, such as what took place in Sri Lanka and caused it  to
experience such brutality is now over. What I regret is the massive
number of casualties on both sides. I have repeatedly stated that most
wars come to an end after about 30 years. This has been proven
statistically, if you examine civil wars and their termination. I have
also argued that in ethnic conflict there has been more war
termination by outright victory of one side rather than through
negotiations. In Sri Lanka’s case, a 30 year war has been terminated

 The LTTE has not provided the proper leadership to lead its people to
freedom and dignity. If the LTTE truly believed in the freedom of its
own people, the people would not be in such a tragic state today. If
they truly believed in the freedom of  the Tamils, they would not have
held 300,000 civilians hostage and used them as  human shields. Even
before the formation of the militant movements, the Tamil National
leadership maintained an illusion of a separate state of Tamil Eelam.
Tamil Eelam was a mirage offered to its people and sacrifices in lives
lost, money and blood were called for to realize this mirage.

 The LTTE rejected the offer extended by the Jayewardene Government
through the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement where the LTTE was offered to
govern the Northeastern Provincial Council for 10 years. Then there
were attempts to  resolve the Tamil National Question by President
Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga, who were prepared to go up to a
Federal solution. These offers were also rejected summarily. Then
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe initiated negotiations, when 6
rounds of talks were held and a CFA was signed between the parties.
The LTTE again summarily dismissed the efforts by the UNP government
and instead, they worked to defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe in the
Presidential elections. The LTTE had foolishly believed that Mahinda
Rajapaksa would be an easier foe to defeat militarily and that
international sympathy would come to the LTTE by proving that
Rajapaksa was bent on genocide against Tamils. This propaganda was fed
continuously to the Tamil Diaspora, although the facts on the ground
were different. Sure, there was much discrimination and humiliation of
Tamils, but this could not be generalized into ‘genocide’.

 The LTTE was purely relying on military victories and politics was
secondary. Its waterloo came when President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided
 to call the bluff of the LTTE and decided to militarily crush them.

 Question: But you were always for a political solution and had always
supported mediation. You have been known to be in the frontline as a
peace activist against war. What made you to change your position?

 Answer: Throughout my 25 years in this field,  I have dedicated
myself to the pursuit of peace, to seek means of preventing conflicts,
to promote preventive diplomacy. I helped to form the National Anti
War Front and organised many demonstrations against the war. Our
position was to persuade the parties to reach a negotiated solution.

 But we soon realized that the LTTE was not interested in a negotiated
solution. I had the opportunity to meet the LTTE leadership on two
occasions, after the election of the incumbent President. During my
conversations with the LTTE leadership, I was appalled by the
arrogance and lack of realism on the part of the leadership. They were
absolutely sure that they could defeat the armed forces militarily,
that India and the international community would come to their
assistance and that they would teach the Sri Lankan armed forces a

 I reminded them during my talks that the Indian Peace Keeping Forces
were on the verge of defeating the LTTE and had surrounded the
leadership in a small stretch of land in the Vanni, but that it was
President Premadasa who bailed them out. I also told that the IPKF had
many constraints so that they could not pursue the war with all their
resources. I also told them that other Presidents exercised
constraints and that they did not pursue a policy of full scale war.
The cost of such a war would cause huge loss of lives and damage. It
was then that we realized that the LTTE had a clear agenda, a single
objective, which was to achieve a separate state by any means. We also
realized that people in the South were sick of the war and wanted the
terror to be ended. It was then that we decided to change our name to
PRAYATHNA, the People’s Movement and this position was ratified by
7000 delegates at the Sugathadasa Stadium in November 2006.

 Question:  What do you think should be done now?

 Answer: The challenge is on how to win the peace. The government has
won the war but it must have equal political will to win the peace. I
hope that the government takes this opportunity to say “Never Again”
and address the causes that led to the conflict. To win the peace, we
have to reject the politics of humiliation which has been one of the
root causes of the war. I hope that the triumphalism which has been
projected through military parades and jubilations will be over soon.
Naturally, the people in the South have felt relieved at the end of
terrorism in their own part of the country. But, we live in one
country and we have now got to reach out to the Tamil people. The
Sinhalese have an obligation to address the root causes which led to
this tragedy and provide the leadership. The Tamil people as a whole
feel defeated and live without much hope. They had mistakenly believed
that the LTTE would bring them dignity and freedom. Now with the
defeat of the LTTE, they feel rudderless and without a leadership.

 Question:  But what do you think is happening to the IDP camps
located in the North? What needs to be done?

 Answer: The IDP camps are indeed tragic and they are the largest such
camps anywhere in the world. I do not think that the Government
planned for such a large number to move out of the safe zone. It is
tragic to hear of the testimonies of the people who had fled the LTTE
from  the so called safe zones and come to Government controlled
areas. Watching the people in mass flight with injuries not to mention
emaciated faces as a result of being deprived of food for a long
period was indeed a sorry sight. I feel that the people should return
to their own villages and homes as soon as possible. It is not
possible to keep them all held in small areas of land for a long
period of time. The Tamil people were a people with dignity and many
had livelihoods and occupations. They cannot be called upon to beg for
food and water. The amenities provided such as toilet facilities and
privacy are unacceptable.

 I feel that a large number of those who are residents of Jaffna,
Mannar, Vavuniya should be moved to their areas of residence. Old
people, single women with children and other vulnerable groups should
be allowed to return to their relatives. There are still many families
who need to be reunited. I feel that the reconstruction of the
devastation of the North should be done by the people themselves.
This is how post war reconstruction was done in other countries.

 Question:  How do you think war termination has happened in other countries?

 Answer: This is a complex question and each situation is different.
If we take the example of the Second World War, the Allied Forces
bombed Dresden, destroyed the city of Berlin, before they reached the
bunker of Hitler and many atrocities were committed. But no victorious
army takes upon it to conduct a War Crimes Tribunal .It has always
been defeated forces who have been subjected to War Crimes Tribunals.
Even in Bosnia, President Milosevic was subjected to a War Crimes
Tribunal, once he was defeated in the elections, but died in custody,
before his trial was over. The same procedure was followed with
President Charles Taylor of Liberia and many others. In the case of
Germany, the Allied governments decided to move towards reconciliation
and enlightened leaders such as Monet, Schumann, Adenauer and many
French and German intellectuals worked tirelessly to create a Europe
without war. As a result of this policy of reconciliation, Germany
rose from the ashes to be a democratic state and a major economic
power. So did Japan. In India too the people witnessed the carnage of
the Hindu – Muslim riots as a result of the partition of India and
Pakistan. But the founding fathers of India, Nehru, Patel and others
created a Constituent Assembly and adopted  a Constitution which
promised power sharing and minority protection.

 But it is important to bring closure to the terrible wounds and the
mourning that surely must be felt by many Tamils and the families of
Sinhalese soldiers. The question is how to heal the wounds and move
towards reconciliation. Perhaps, there are other ways and we have to
find creative means of doing so. I am not arguing for impunity against
the crimes committed by both sides, but to find a national means for
reconciliation. For this, we have to look within ourselves and look to
the  great religions which can help to cope with these dilemmas. It
surely must be based on compassion and reaching out to the other.

 Question:  Could you show some ways forward for this?

 Answer: Our leaders, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim must give the
leadership. It has been the short sightedness and opportunism of our
political leaders on all sides which has led us to this calamity.  We
must reject the humiliation of the other, reach out to the other and
build the trust and confidence for a united country. The Tamils must
eschew the politics of division and return to moderate struggle and
the Sinhalese must eschew extremist and polarization and reject
triumphalism and humiliation. Perhaps the best way may be for the
Government to address the fundamental grievances of the Tamil people.

 The President has now declared that the 13th Amendment would be fully
implemented. It is also stated that there will be a second chamber
consisting of minorities and other interest groups. I am glad that the
President has put his foot down firmly and told the JHU and the Wimal
Weerawanse that he will not tolerate any dissent on the full
implementation of the 13th Amendment. The Minister for Constitutional
Affairs, D.E.W. Gunesekera has announced that all new recruits to the
Public Service should be proficient in Tamil and Sinhalese. The two
language policy should be effectively implemented. Legislation should
be introduced to prohibit racial incitement by all parties. All forms
of discrimination should be removed and the rights of minorities
should be protected.

 The huge Diaspora communities, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims must
reject extremism and join in efforts to rebuild the country. There are
over two million Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who have left the
country, most of them because of the conflict. The younger generation
of Tamils who have been radicalized by the war should rethink their
ways and not be misled by self seeking leaders who wish to create
further division. The Sinhalese should work for unity and
reconciliation. All of them are a great asset for Sri Lanka and they
must be mobilized to rebuild the country.

 We have to catch up and join the modern world. Sri Lanka is blessed
with huge resources and a talented people. We should all be encouraged
to learn English as a link language, have access to information
technology, revamp our educational system to fit into modern
requirements and eliminate corruption which is a part of the system.
It is expected that over one and a half million tourists will come to
Sri Lanka. The economy will benefit and the Yal Devi will travel from
Colombo to Jaffna. The entire North and the East will undergo massive
reconstruction. A lot more has to be achieved.

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