Chandrika starts ethnic reconciliation

COLOMBO JULY 26. As Sri Lankans watch the unfolding of the sixth attempt at conflict resolution, this time through a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement, the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has started a national consultation of ethnic reconciliation, aimed at healing the wounds of two decades of civil conflict.

That the institutional mechanism towards ethnic reconciliation would not dilute Ms. Kumaratunga's stance against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was evident in her denunciation of reported moves by the rebels to recruit policemen.

"It is a worrying situation,'' she said, adding that though her constitutional proposals had envisaged greater powers to the regions, "there is no devolution yet.''

Unlike the past 19 years during which the Tigers splattered the July calendar with attacks masterminded to coincide with the anniversaries of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, this year there have been no attacks on civilian targets till date.

Describing the 1983 riots as "the most shameful three days in Sri Lanka's history,'' Ms. Kumaratunga said she embarked upon this effort not just "as head of State of this country,'' but "as a mother and as a woman who hopes that my children and yours will no longer be called upon to see the horrors that our generations were compelled to see during the last 19 years.''

The bitter relationship between the two political parties, the People's Alliance and the United National Party, was evident today as well with the latter staying away from the consultations. Ms. Kumaratunga, referring to the difficulties she faced in heading a Cabinet comprising her political opponents, said: "I have tried and will continue to try 100 per cent to make co-habitation work.'' Referring to the strained relationship between the two major parties, Sivajilingam, member of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) said, "The division of the country is not in Prabakaran's hands, but in the hands of the leaders of the two main political parties.''

This point was also emphasised by R. Sampanthan, of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), who said that while there was a meeting of minds between a majority of the Sinhalese and the Tamils, what was hampering peace was "the inability of the two main political parties to work out a reconciliation among themselves and to work towards the resolution of the national conflict.'' The TELO and the TULF contested the last Parliamentary elections on a pro-LTTE platform.

``If somebody can start a process of reconciliation between the PA and the UNP, that will mark the beginning of finding an end to the conflict," D. Sidhathan, President of the PLOTE, which is not aligned with the Tigers, told The Hindu after today's consultation.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Foreign Minister and senior Presidential Advisor on Foreign Affairs, said that for the process of reconciliation to be meaningful, "we must openly recognise the fact that we have made mistakes. We have made collective mistakes. Some of our mistakes have been compounded by further mistakes.'' Anura Bandaranaike, Senior Advisor to the President on National Integration, emphasised the importance of co-operation between the two parties.

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