Re-examining the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka

By C. Silva

Addressing the 62nd UN General Assembly in New York, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that his government was committed to seeking a ‘negotiated and honourable’ end to the conflict and that the All-Party Representative Committee was working successfully towards that goal.

It was re-assuring to read such comments given that doubts had risen about the President’s sincerity to resolve the issue after the recent military successes. The UNP has not helped matters by moving from its stated position of federal to unitary for the sole purpose of gaining support to topple the government. The minorities are left wondering whether this issue and its causes would ever be resolved.

What are the root causes behind the conflict – is it the language issue, communal and religious tolerance, human rights and the right to the life of others? Successive governments have tried but failed to address the grievances of the minorities and some brushed aside these grievances as fabrications.

In spite of the difficulties non-Sinhala speakers faced due to the non-implementation of the Official Languages provisions, the argument was made that such problems did not exit. We need to promote multilingualism, social, political and cultural contacts across ethnic boundaries as an essential ingredient for national unity and for the avoidance of communal divisions.

Even today if we address these grievances the ethnic problem could be resolved and the conflict would come to an end.

Sri Lanka has been beset with foreign representatives and others passing comments about the conflict. In part, it is our fault as we have politicised our missions abroad and have handed over the propaganda initiative to the LTTE.

Our Foreign Ministry should have been proactive rather than re-active as at present. The recent political appointments to our missions abroad do not help to regain the initiative as the appointees are ‘planted’ through influence.

The Foreign Service must be a Closed Service, staffed by career diplomats and the recruitment to the service must be based on merit.

Finally, the armed conflict will continue until such time that all parties re-examine the whole ethnic issue afresh and eliminate the causes of the problem and bring about peace.

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