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Will Darusman report affect reconciliation?

By Arthur Wamanan
The UN Secretary General’s controversial expert panel report on the final stages of the battle has created ripples in the national and international political stage.
The government of Sri Lanka has come down heavily on the report as being biased, flawed and instrumental in disturbing the ongoing reconciliation process.

Excerpts of the report were leaked to the press a few days after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
The government called upon the UN to refrain from publishing the report as it could have adverse effects on the country’s reconciliation process and the development activities carried out in the post war period.
The government on several occasions have stressed on the importance of reconciliation and its importance in ensuring that the country is not divided once again.

The diaspora and the pro-LTTE elements abroad have launched campaigns in favour of the report. They now look to press the international community to investigate into the alleged war crimes against the government that have been highlighted in this report.

While the government is putting up a fight to overcome this challenge, the Tamil political parties and politicians are divided on this issue, as is the case.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), considered as the main Tamil political outfit, has been critical of the war against the LTTE and was involved in getting the international community to intervene and stop the war citing civilian casualties.

TNA Parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran questioned the government on whether reconciliation process was going on in the country and listed several obstacles that were on the way of coming to a stable solution. The TNA pointed out that even though the government had ended the war, it was still far away from solving the actual problem in the country.

“Large land areas in the north have been taken over by the military and have put up their own buildings. Everything carried out in the region is done with the intervention of the police and the security forces,” he said.
The TNA had softened its post war stance and had even agreed to hold talks with the government on two issues, namely, pursuing for a permanent solution for the longstanding ethnic question and addressing the immediate needs of those who have been affected by the war in the north and east.
Focus has been made to the latter issue as it needs immediate attention to assist the people to get back on their feet after harrowing experiences.

Premachandran also pointed out the non-implementation of several of their demands that they had made during the post war period. “High Security Zones (HSZ) have not been removed completely. There are Buddhist temples coming up in areas where there are no Buddhists living. There are still IDPs in Muthur and Sampur. No action has been taken to resettle them in their own places,” Premachandran said.
The main factor pointed out here is that there could be no reconciliation without finding a lasting solution to the ethnic question. This is the view that has been held by several other Tamil politicians as well.
Former parliamentarian and leader of the Democratic People’s Front (DPF), Mano Ganeshan also shared the same sentiments expressed by Premachandran. Ganeshan was also the
Co-convener of the rights group, Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) and campaigned against the forcible disappearances of persons in the latter half of the last decade.

“As a citizen of this country, I do not see any steps taken by the government to reconcile the people.
Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)
V. Anandasangaree has called upon President Mahinda Rajapaksa to prevent random demonstrations and violent activities against the published report. He requested the President to welcome publication of the report and face whatever matter it contains.

It should be noted that Anandasangaree, who was a member of the TNA during its initial days in Parliament, broke away due to differences of opinion with the rest of the members of the alliance. He had been critical of the LTTE and also of the government during the war.
He emphasised the role of the UN in the global arena and said that the main role of the organisation was to promote international peace, security and co-operation. “This is an organisation that no member country, including ours, can afford to antagonise, except perhaps a few big powers,” Anandasangaree said.
The UN did play a crucial role soon after the end of the war by working with the government in providing immediate assistance to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) when they were accommodated in Menik farm, Vavuniya. Anandasangaree also pointed out that several countries depended on the UN for assistances in health, education and several others.

“No one can deny that there were several thousands of causalities during the war. Very many factors contributed for this situation. How or why did this happen? All these must come to light,” Anandasangaree said.
“What the country needs today is absolute peace for all, for which a solution to the ethnic problem, acceptable to the minorities, is indispensable. I am sure that no reasonable person in this country will ever object to people’s desire to live in the country as equals,” he said.

Tamil politicians aligned to the government however maintain the stance of the state that the publication of this report would harm the reconciliation process of the country. Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, Deputy Minister of Resettlement and Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had reportedly said that the efforts of the government to build a lasting peace and harmony would be affected by the report.

External Affairs Minister, Prof. G L Peiris organised a press conference on April 21, soon after his arrival in the country after accompanying President Mahinda Rajapaksa on an official visit to the Bangladesh.
Prof. Peiris told the media that the government rejected the report and added that the release of the report would cause irreparable damages to the country, which had just come out of a long period of conflict.
Prof. Peiris called upon the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to reach out to Sri Lanka in its endeavours to create a lasting peaceful environment.

Ban Ki-moon, however, stood firm on his decision to make the panel report public and did so on April 26. The report has received positive and negative responses from several quarters locally and internationally.

One of the most important moves by the government in the post war context was the appointment of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The government in May last year, appointed the LLRC, which conducted many sessions in Colombo, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee and many other parts of the country.
People from all walks of life were invited to give their submissions to the commission, whose main purpose was to look into the mistakes that led to the 30-year-old war and to ensure that it does not repeat. The commission was initially to function for six months.

However, the President extended the commission’s time by a further six months, as he believed that the time given was not adequate to do a complete job.
The LRRC submitted its interim report to the government in November last year. It is expected to hand over its final report on May 15.

Prof. G L Peiris during the press briefing pointed out that it was wrong for the United National Party (UNP), TNA and several other opposition parties to refrain from taking part at the LLRC sessions.
It should also be noted that the LLRC explored into the reasons that led to the failure of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed between the then UNP government and the LTTE in 2002.

Vasu confident
Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that the UN panel report would not have any immediate impact on the reconciliation process of the country.
He said the government had begun a multi-faceted process in bringing reconciliation and developing the country.
“The government is now in the process of holding discussions with the TNA. There are several other measures that need to be taken to unite the country. Therefore, I don’t see an immediate impact on the reconciliation process,” he said.

He agreed that there could be certain issues due to the responses of parties like the TNA to the report. “There would be small problems if the TNA welcomes the report and campaigns for investigations. However, the government will not forsake the discussions with the Alliance because of these things,” he added.
He also said the people were benefitting greatly due to the absence of violence and hostilities and therefore, they would not have any direct concern over such reports.
“The people who are affected by the war in the Vanni are now getting back to normal life. They are being provided with assistance. Now they are in a position to get the necessary legal documents such as birth certificates. They would not focus on the report. Therefore, there would be no division among the people because of the published report,” Nanayakkara said.