For Peace, Sri Lanka has to change: Bob Rae
By M.R. Narayan Swamy, Indo-Asian News Service



New Delhi, March 31, 2007 (IANS) A top Canadian politician closely linked to Sri Lanka's peace process says the ethnic conflict will never end unless Colombo recognises "the legitimate collective and individual rights of the Tamils". There can never be a military solution, insisted former Ontario prime minister Bob Rae in an interview, adding that the onus of taking steps to bring peace to the island nation rested on the government and opposition parties. "Unless the legitimate collective and individual rights of the Tamils are recognised by the government, this problem will never be solved," the 59-year-old, who was an advisor on federalism to Colombo, told IANS via email. "No military action will achieve the same goal." Rae, who has had extensive interactions with representatives of the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), went on: "The burden of taking the necessary steps to peace, reconciliation and restructuring now rest with the government and opposition parties in Colombo."

Rae's comments, which reflect the thinking among most global players, comes when the dragging conflict has reached new heights, leaving thousands dead and many thousands displaced since December 2005. A Norway-brokered ceasefire of 2002 is in tatters. Rae said while there had been studies, hints at proposals and offers to think about possible solutions, "what there has not been is a concrete commitment to change, to recognise the legitimacy of the fundamental quest of the Tamil people for recognition, for equality, and for self government (and) participation in a Sri Lanka prepared to open itself up to ... shared rule. This is what must now happen".

Rae, elected eight times to Canada's federal and provincial parliaments before he quit politics in 1996, found fault with the Tigers too, mainly because of the group's refusal to make peace with Tamils who disagree with it. Admitting that it was easy to be wise on hindsight, he said the main reason the ceasefire did not lead to peace was that the two main parties never moved beyond the temporary end of the fighting to get to a broader solution. "A ceasefire between two parties can never be the basis of a full-scale constitutional solution because the latter process by definition requires the participation of a much wider spectrum of society."

On the government side, he said, the ceasefire agreement itself came under partisan attack, making it impossible to really engage with other parties about the next stage. "The LTTE's insistence on being named the 'authentic voice' of the Tamil people meant that others were excluded from what had to become a broader civil project for the whole community." Rae, who continues to take an active interest in Sri Lankan affairs, said everyone had to share responsibility for what didn't happen after the ceasefire agreement (CFA) of 2002.

"The international community's participation in the process was disjointed and unfocussed. The Norwegians should not have played a dual role as mediators and monitors of the ceasefire - these are two completely separate roles. The LTTE should have allowed for other Tamil voices to be heard, and should have stopped violence against other Tamils and child recruitment. "All the political parties in the Sinhala community should have embraced the need for deep, structural change in the governance arrangements in the country. This has still not happened, and the return to a military approach by the Sri Lankan government has resulted in more loss of life, more deep hardship."

What was needed, he said, was a concrete plan, accepted by Colombo and others, "that will allow for a ceasefire, a full recognition of the humanitarian disaster at hand, and the need for robust monitoring of the rights situation". "A constitutional process must then allow for the participation, without fear and without intimidation, of all sections and views in the country. There is no other way to get to a just result." Rae, who Saturday addressed a meeting of the Sri Lankan Democracy Forum in London in memory of Kethesh Loganathan, who was assassinated allegedly by the Tamil Tigers, said it was time the world took the crisis in the island more seriously.

"The conflict is dramatically under-reported and unrecognised, and this must change. When one considers the numbers killed, the level of suffering - from malnutrition to homelessness, to child recruitment - it is extraordinary the world has not responded with more vigour and determination."

(Courtesy: Indo-Asian News Service)