|Sunday, 16 November 2003|
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Editor, Sunday Observer.
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This is not the first time that the Norwegian 'facilitators' have arrived here, and, failing to obtain immediate results, have left to return another day.
The difference this time, however, is that the failure is not to do with dealings between Colombo and Kilinochchi but with inability of Colombo to resolve its own political crisis. Today, not only is the island partitioned by militant ethnic nationalism, but the centre of State power is also divided by political party rivalry.
For how long the Colombo-Kilinochchi relationship will remain non-belligerent depends on far too many factors that are not easily manageable without a negotiating process.
A simple suspension of hostilities, however stable, is wholly inadequate for any guarantee of long-term stability when so many burning problems that have to be resolved remain unresolved due to the hiatus in negotiations. Foremost and most dangerous, is the problem of Tamil-Muslim relations in the East which is not just a "burning issue" but literally sets parts of the East aflame in sporadic rioting, the frequency of which is ominously mounting.
And if that is not enough, there are the host of economic and social problems that the North-Eastern population remains burdened with as a result of the war. The longer the Tamil people, in particular, have to suffer, the less amenable are they going to be to any reconciliation and re-integration with the Sri Lanka State that they feel is the principal perpetrator of this suffering.
There is also the issue of un-regulated militarisation in large parts of the country, especially in the North-East where the possible growth of military capability by the non-State entity cannot be regarded as conducive for a peaceable rebuilding of the Sri Lankan nation-state, whether in federal or confederal form. Also, while the death or injury of a single soldier or militant may not start a war, the accumulation of such tragedy could lay the tinder that could spark off fighting.
While all of the above points to the need for a quick revival of peace talks, no such revival is in sight as long as Colombo remains divided. The fact that both the UNP and the PA must collaborate and take joint responsibility for peace negotiations and for the inevitable constitutional reform is now acknowledged almost universally except, perhaps, by elements in these two parties themselves.
But there is little effort to delineate the contours of such collaboration. While the President has floated the idea of a 'national government' this has yet to be accepted by the Prime Minister and his United National Front Government.
An alternative to a national government could be a limited collaboration for the purpose of the peace negotiations, but this will have to be structured to ensure that both parties are locked into the process. There could be a sustained, institutionalised collaboration between the Government and the Presidency as well as between the governing parties and the parliamentary opposition that will, firstly, ensure political consensus over negotiations with the LTTE and, secondly, will build a national popular consensus for fundamental reform of the Republic.
But if the parties don't have ideas, someone else has to develop and promote such mechanisms that 'trap' the two political blocs into joint action genuinely fulfilling their popular mandate for peace. This is where civil society must step in.
There is inadequate coordinated and sustained action by civil society in all its forms - from social action groups, community organisations and civic lobbies to business chambers and trade unions - to bring pressure to bear on the two parties and their leaders to concretely manifest all their rhetoric about 'cohabitation' and 'cooperation'.
As the politicians quarrel, the citizens must act. Otherwise, a permanent peace on this island, whether the result of a negotiated partition or a re-integrated State, either federal or confederal, is only a remote hope, a distant dawn.
Produced by Lake House