Senior Adviser to the Sri Lankan President and Peace Secretariat Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala has emphasised the potential role that can be played by the Sri Lankan Diaspora- both Sinhala and Tamil, in promoting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Acknowledging the sizable Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora that comprises an estimated 700,000 people living mainly in Canada, the US, Europe, India and Australia, Ambassador Dhanapala urged that they play an active role in moderating the behaviour of the LTTE. He regretted that up to now unfortunately the Tamil Diaspora appears to have played a negative role in sustaining the conflict in Sri Lanka through their remittances and that it is in this context that Sri Lanka has insisted that the international community must come down hard on LTTE front organizations, which continue to fund the LTTE’s war chest through various disguises as charitable, cultural and even religious bodies, abusing host country laws and regulations.

Ambassador Dhanapala made these observations when he addressed a forum organized by the Asia Society, on the theme “Sri Lanka Peace Process: Problems and Prospects”, which was held at the Willard Inter-Continental in Washington D.C on Monday (12 September). Joseph C. Snyder, Executive Director of the Asia Society’s Washington Center presided over the event, while Ambassador Dhanapala was introduced by Ambassador David N. Merrill, Senior Vice President of the Nathan Associates. Diplomats, representatives from the corporate sector, NGOs, the media, as well as Sri Lankan expatriates attended the event.

Earlier in his speech, Ambassador Dhanapala who said he would endeavour to clear the unique “fog of peace” in Sri Lanka, enumerated the numerous difficulties and opportunities encountered in the Sri Lanka peace process. He said despite the daily sights and sounds of conflict, which fill our newspapers and television screens worldwide, researchers are now saying that the prospects for peace in the world today may be higher than it has ever been and that war itself may be in decline. Emphasising that peace is indeed a dynamic, complex and difficult process and not a static goal, he reminded his audience that the recent peace agreement signed by the government of Indonesia and the rebel Free Aceh Movement, came after twenty-nine (29) years of conflict and the historic declaration made by the IRA in July this year to disarm and work for a united Ireland through peaceful means, came after thirty six (36) years of waging war. He said it was not unlikely that good news of a similar nature can come from Sri Lanka with the right political will and the right decisions made by the parties to the conflict.

With respect to the Sri Lanka Peace Process, Ambassador Dhanapala said he believed that the prospects for peace remained strong for several reasons.

First, despite the enormous strain that has been put on the ceasefire agreement, the present ceasefire which has held for over three and a half years is the longest cessation of hostilities to date since 1983. Although there have been numerous ceasefire violations, there have been no direct military confrontations with the LTTE. The ceasefire has also facilitated humanitarian and development assistance in the conflict ravaged North and the East of Sri Lanka, including in the LTTE dominated districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.

Second, despite changes in the political leadership, government policy in relation to the peace process has remained fairly stable in the last few years. The present peace process that was initiated by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, was built upon by the United National Front government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002 with the CFA. The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government, which came into office in April 2004, again pledged to respect the CFA, and continue facilitation by Norwegians to resume peace talks. Sri Lanka is today at the threshold of a Presidential election to be held later this year. Whichever candidate comes to office, this process will be continued and it must.

Third, despite a strident and vocal anti-peace lobby, there is a strong public support base for a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Professionally conducted opinion polls by independent organizations in Sri Lanka have revealed the full extent of the peace constituency in Sri Lanka, especially at the grassroots. The most recent polls reveal that 76.7% across all ethnic groups want a permanent solution through negotiations.

Fourth, there is a whole gamut of civil society organizations working for peace in Sri Lanka, and involved in a diversity of activities such as lobbying, researching and mobilizing community level peace building. The establishment of a National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation last year with Political, Religious and Civil Society Committees is intended to foster a national dialogue on conflict resolution.

Fifth, the international influence and support to the peace process in Sri Lanka has taken multiple forms, be it at the “Track 1” level of facilitation and monitoring of the CFA, diplomacy and international pressure, or economic assistance for humanitarian and development work. Key actors have been countries such as Norway, USA, EU, Japan and India, as well as multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UNDP. While outside actors cannot enforce peace, external assistance, support, pressure and sanctions where necessary will be vital to bring a negotiated end to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Norway will continue as facilitator and the SLMM will remain as CFA monitors. It was hoped that their roles can be forcefully supplemented by others such as by the UN in the human rights field.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

12 Septmeber 2005

Full Text of the Speech



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