Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am extremely happy to have this opportunity to address you and to share my thoughts on the challenge of terrorism confronting Sri Lanka today as it searches for a peaceful but just end to the conflict.

Sri Lanka, as many of you are aware, is one of Asia’s oldest functioning democracies. We have enjoyed universal adult franchise since 1931. From the time we gained independence from British rule in 1948, a vibrant system of Parliamentary democracy has firmly taken root. Under the present system, elections are held based on proportional representation. Our democratic tradition is sustained by a vibrant multi-party system that accommodates ethnic and religious minorities. Free and fair elections, observed by the international community, have been held without interruption since independence and different political parties that have come to power in this period have striven to introduce political and economic policies that have demonstrated sensitivity to the aspirations of our people. All minorities are represented in Parliament. Reflecting the heterogeneous composition of our society - Sri Lanka has two official languages; Sinhala & Tamil with English serving as the link language. Chapter III of our Constitution guarantees freedom to practice a religion of one’s choice among other constitutionally guaranteed rights. We have also evolved from a largely centralised system of administration to one that has gradually devolved power to the provinces with a view to involving people in different parts of the country in the governance of their own local areas. In 1987 a Provincial Council system was introduced through the 13th amendment to the constitution. Today the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) set up by the present Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is engaged in consultations with all political parties to reach a broad consensus on further devolution of power. The government has clearly stated that its objective is the maximum devolution of power within a unitary state.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have attempted to outline broadly Sri Lanka’s demonstrated commitment to democracy and pluralism in order to place in context Sri Lanka’s challenge of terrorism, attributable to a ruthless terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE pioneered suicide bombings of civilian targets long before 9/11. To date they have conducted the largest number of successful suicide bombings against civilian targets. The LTTE claims to be the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamil community but ironically it has killed more Tamils than those of any other ethnic group in Sri Lanka, most notably the moderate members of the community who were committed to the democratic process. A long list of Tamil moderates has been eliminated by the LTTE. Almost all Tamil leaders who dissented with the LTTE have been murdered by them. Professor Jean Elshtain of the University of Chicago states in his book “Just war against terror” states “terrorists are those who kill unarmed people they consider their objective enemies no matter what these people may or may not have done.” Take the gruesome events of 9/11 in New York, 7/7 in London, the suicide bomb attack on the Central bus station in Colombo in 1987, the bombing of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in the heart of our commercial capital Colombo in 1996 resulting in the death of over thousand office workers and the bomb attack on a civilian bus in May 2007 as a few examples. In the words of Michael Walzer in his book “Arguing about War” “terrorism’s purpose is to destroy the morale of a nation or a class, to undercut its solidarity, its method is the random murder of innocent people”. Yet there are those who claim that there are root causes for terrorism and that unless these are solved or ameliorated, terrorism will flourish. This in my view puts the cart before the horse. Relative political stability, including controlling illegitimate violence, must be established along with meaningfully addressing social questions. Without a structure of political accountability there can be no meaningful tackling of social questions. Terrorism cannot have a place in our society as a legitimate means of expressing political dissent or achieving social goals. Innocents must not be made to pay the price for the dreams of demented minds.

Take for instance recent military operations carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces in the eastern province which have resulted in the east being cleared of the influence of the LTTE. LTTE control had for over two decades resulted in the people of this area being denied the free exercise of their franchise, their children conscripted as cannon fodder, subjected to excessive forms of taxation and denial their basic freedoms including the freedom of movement. It was Thomas Hobbes who said that “tyranny and oligarchy are not the names of other forms of government”. The liberation of the east by the security forces will result in the restoration to the people of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The government will hold elections in the area for the local authorities early next year. Today the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has launched a massive “re-awakening of the east programme” that seeks to rebuild houses, schools, public buildings, roads and bridges, thus creating employment opportunities, and encouraging investments in their areas to economically empower the people who have long suffered under LTTE tyranny and to help them, above all, to rebuild their lives and regain their lost livelihoods. We are encouraging foreign investors and the international non-governmental organisations to support the Government’s reconstruction and rehabilitation programme in the east. Unfortunately civilians in a small part of the northern province continue to live in terrible conditions under the clutches of the LTTE. The Government has continued fulfilling its obligation of providing food and other essential commodities to these people and is concerned about their fate under the control of terrorists. In fact, every single doctor, nurse, teacher and government servant in the two districts, Kilinochchi and Mullativu, is paid their salaries by the government in Colombo.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are those blind critics of the Government who continue to argue that the Government is pursuing a military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. This is far from the truth. The Government remains firmly committed to a political solution to address the grievances of all communities and the APRC process I have referred to earlier is evidence of this. But this commitment does not imply appeasement of terror. Many advocate a ceasefire. Let us be reminded of the reality. First of all with regard to a ceasefire, the question of confidence and bona-fides are of paramount importance. Unfortunately the conduct of the LTTE since the Norwegian brokered ceasefire became effective in February 2002, does not inspire a great deal of confidence. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission reports, and not reports of the Government, show that the LTTE committed intentional and deliberate violations of the ceasefire agreement far in excess of the government. They were responsible for thousands of documented instances of deliberate and grave violations of the ceasefire agreement as compared with the few hundred infringements by the armed forces of Sri Lanka. It is now known that there were large quantities of arms that were smuggled into the country during that period, including aircraft parts and other material that is now being used by the LTTE in its offensives. It was also during this period that many moderate Tamil leaders were eliminated. So the opportunity for peace that presented itself during the ceasefire was deliberately misused to prepare for further violence and in a manner that was gravely prejudicial to the security of the State and the safety of the public. That is the memory that is fresh in the minds of the public. That is the reality that needs to be taken into account. A cessation of hostilities must be accomplished by a genuine commitment to achieving peace.

On the other hand with regard to a cessation of hostilities it has been the uniform experience of successful peace processes all over the world, for instance the Northern Ireland situation, that the cessation of hostilities has generally been linked to some agreement with regard to decommissioning of weapons. Not overnight, not all at once, but as an integral part of the process. The Northern Ireland situation is a very clear and convincing example of that; you engage in political discussions to resolve a series of issues. Side by side with that there has to be attention paid to some viable arrangements for the decommissioning of weapons, for the laying down of arms over a period step by step and under proper supervision. That element was conspicuously lacking in the Sri Lankan situation. There was a complete hiatus in that regard, that again is a factor which significantly eroded public confidence especially when the LTTE appeared to be determined to use the ceasefire agreement to strengthen its position.

A ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities is by its very nature fragile if it stands by itself in a vacuum, if it is not linked to a process which enables substantive issues to be addressed. The Government had several rounds of talks with the LTTE. On all these occasions the LTTE found an excuse, usually a flimsy excuse, for walking away. There was an evident lack of commitment on the part of the LTTE to resolve its grievances through negotiations. The breathing space provided by the talks only appears to have been used to strengthen its offensive capabilities. For a cessation of hostilities to be meaningful or substantial, it is essential that there be some agreement with regard to the substantive political issues or at least agreement between the sides with regard to a framework within which the substantive issues can be addressed within a reasonable time. Otherwise the ceasefire becomes a mirage, a myth that exists simply in a vacuum.

With regard to the political process itself successive governments have proposed several models for the devolution of power as a means to address the grievances, in particular of the Tamil and Muslim people, in the north and east. Many select committees were appointed in the past and extensive devolution of power involving the drafting of a new Constitution, was proposed. At present the All Party Representative Committee set up by the All Party Conference that was established only a month after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to office has reached an advanced stage in its deliberations on constitutional proposals for the devolution of power. The majority of Tamil and Muslim political parties have agreed to discuss them with the Government but the LTTE has continued its campaign of violence. The LTTE itself has never presented any proposals except its demand for a separate state. They have continued to ignore that the demand for a separate state is not sustainable given the position of a majority of the people of Sri Lanka, accordingly that of our government, the stated position of the Indian government as well as that of the rest of the international community.

The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in the USA, UK, EU, Canada, India and many other countries. Many who have tried to portray the LTTE as a liberation movement have failed to recognise the LTTE is almost entirely a military organization with no credible political wing like the IRA, for instance. They also forget that whenever the LTTE did enter into negotiations they did so due to pressure from either the international community or the need to regroup following military reversals. The talk-talk, fight-fight approach of terrorist organisations elsewhere have been faithfully followed by the LTTE.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Careful study of peace negotiations in the past with the LTTE has showed that two issues have dominated the agenda. One, the demand for concessions on the ground such as withdrawal of armed forces, access to strategic locations which though disguised as confidence building measures were really aimed at giving them advantage for more aggressive armed strikes against the security forces. The other has been their demand for an interim administration to achieve what they have so far failed to achieve military, namely establishing their absolute hegemony both political and militarily over the entire north and east. Many political analysts have viewed this demand for an interim administration without a peoples mandate as a step towards their goal of achieving a separate state and an option that totally ignores the will of the people. It may also be noted that though as mentioned to earlier in my presentation, the LTTE has participated in negotiations with the government from Thimpu right down to Geneva in October last year, they have clearly demonstrated a reluctance to engage in any meaningful discussion on core political issues. This brings me to the point that you can’t clap with one hand. The Government may remain committed to the hilt but if the LTTE does not demonstrate a serious commitment to political dialogue and continues to unleash violence, raise funds overseas for arms procurement, engage in arms smuggling, conscript children and engage in suicide bombings of civilian targets and the Government’s political leadership - we are faced with a daunting challenge that requires serious reflection. We are faced with a terrorist group which engages in the random slaughter of innocents and is not interested in the subtleties of diplomacy or in compromise solutions to political questions. As Hannah Arendt argued in her book “terrorist have taken leave of politics”. They have embraced what she calls the “instrumentalities of violence rather than the complexities of generating political power, to struggle for doable social and political change”.

We are reassured however that the international community’s perception of the LTTE has changed in spite of the LTTE’s well oiled propaganda machine. Recent revelations of the LTTE’s links with the al-Qaeda network, its illegal commercial transactions, particularly in narcotics smuggling, arms trafficking, human smuggling, money laundering etc have revealed the true extent of its international criminal network. Today the LTTE is proscribed in most countries and significant steps have been taken, including by the United States, France, the UK and Australia to prosecute its activists. It is under investigation in many other countries. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review - it has described the LTTE as second only to Columbia’s FARC in its income and has stated that it raises $200-300 million a year for arms procurement. Fen Osler Hampson in his book ‘Nurturing Peace: why peace settlements succeed or fail’ has referred to “self-sustaining patterns of hostility and violence”. Getting parties to the negotiating table and building momentum towards an agreement are enormously difficult exercises. What operates as a disincentive in this exercise is where financial sustainability of an organization prevents it from exploring other options that may eventually result in its transformation. The ability to amass wealth becomes a self sustaining incentive for a criminal organisation to perpetuate itself. Its wealth becomes a means for clearing its image.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by emphasising that the Government remains committed to the hilt to redressing the grievances of all communities through the political process. We will continue to encourage the LTTE to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. But their failure to respond will not deter the Government either. The Government will pursue in its efforts knowing well that a majority of the people of our country favour peace and are willing to be partners with the Government in searching for a political solution that is broadly acceptable to all the stakeholders. The Government invites the international community to support this approach and to understand that you cannot have a quick fix solution. A political settlement in a democracy has to be carefully and patiently negotiated with all the stakeholders. The Government is fully committed to respecting human rights and the rule of law and has established mechanisms for this purpose. It is our hope that we can continue to draw on the support of the international community as our country faces up to the challenge of terrorism and continues to pursue the path of peace.

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