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Resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka can only happen at the negotiating table

By Andrew Whitehead
[BBC News, Belfast]

James Martin Pacelli McGuinness

One thing is certain," insists Martin McGuinness in his office at Belfast's Stormont Castle. "The resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka can only happen at the negotiating table. Nowhere else."

"Both the government and the Tamil Tigers believe that they can have more victories over each other possibly in advance of peace negotiations. I have to say, I think both the government and the Tamil Tigers are foolish if they believe that."

Mr McGuinness' words carry authority. He is a former IRA fighter (some believe a onetime senior IRA commander), who led his movement through a complex peace process, and is now deputy first minister in a power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland.

He has made the transition that few achieve - from insurgent leader to a key figure in a democratic political system.

'No conclusive victories'

The peace process in Northern Ireland has delivered an end to shootings and bombings which had claimed more than 3,000 lives.

The most important ingredient in any peace process, or conflict resolution process, is leadership... the willingness of leaders to be courageous
Martin McGuinness

The IRA first decided to observe a ceasefire and then to decommission its weapons; a power-sharing system later brought together politicians who had for decades been bitter enemies.

It took almost 20 years to achieve, and divisions between Northern Ireland's Protestant majority and the community that Martin McGuinness represents, the Roman Catholic minority, remain deep.

But Northern Ireland's move away from decades of civil strife has attracted international attention.

Mr McGuinness has travelled the world talking about conflict resolution and how to achieve reconciliation.

He has visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, visiting both the capital Colombo and the rebel-held territory, and has talked to both sides in the island's bitter and long-running separatist conflict.

"What I have said to both the government and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka," he told me, "is that the conflict should be brought to an end."

"There should be a meaningful process of peace negotiations and they should give up any notion whatsoever that they are going to have spectacular, conclusive military victories over each other.

"Yes, they will have spectacular military victories. But they will not be conclusive," Mr McGuinness said.

Mutual respect

Mr McGuinness' intervention comes amid an upsurge in violence in Sri Lanka.

A Republican mural in Belfast. File photo
The IRA was fighting for a united Ireland

An uneasy ceasefire that staggered on for several years is now clearly over, and the Sri Lankan army has recently suggested that the Tamil Tigers are facing military defeat.

Many analysts believe, however, that the separatists - one of the world's most tenacious armed groups - are unlikely to be vanquished on the battlefield.

The Northern Ireland politician, who has served time in jail for paramilitary offences and is also an elected British MP (though he has never taken his seat at Westminster), argues that around the world, achieving an end to conflict requires leaders who have the foresight to engage in dialogue with their enemies.

I asked him what words of advice he offers those who seek to emulate Northern Ireland's example - from profound civil conflict to peace.

"The first thing I tell them," he responded, "is we can't solve their problems - the only people who can solve their problems are themselves.

"The most important ingredient in any peace process, or conflict resolution process, is leadership. The willingness of leaders to be courageous, and to recognise that the only way to resolve conflict is by sitting down, respecting one another in dialogue and discussion," he said.

The Northern Ireland example also, many would argue, underlines the need to compromise.

The IRA was fighting for a united Ireland. The peace process has greatly increased the political power of the Catholic minority and has established all-Ireland institutions, but the region remains part of Britain. [courtesy: BBC.co.uk]

4 Comments

Last week, to every one's surprise, the US congress voted shamelesssly, to remove Nelson Mandela and the ANC members from its list of terrorist persons.

Canadian government and the other governments in the west are no exception. The West is invariably ignorant or rather stupid about their knowledge of National struggle, liberation movement, Freedom movement and terrorist movement.

Justice to all the people in the world is an obl;igation and not a prvilege. Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice is denied to Tamils in the North East (NE) for decades. Tamils are allowed to rot, are murdered, raped, tortured, kidnapped, diappeared and displaced. Harward Medical School reported that about 345,000 persons have died in the conflict in Sri Lanka (SL) Mostly, the victims are from the NE. No offenders have been brought to justice because the culprits are Sinhalese.

It is the responsibility of humanity to protect humanity. The inaction by the UN for gross injustice against Tamils by the Sri Lankan state has set up an ugly precedent internationally for other dictators like Mugabe to encourage his soldiers to murder, rape, kidnap and torture citizens.

Mugabe held "unilateral election" and declared unilateral victory. A few months ago, the GOSL held "unilateral election" in the East with guns, violence and rigging and declared unilateral victory, yet the UN and the International Community (IC) were stone silent. If the GOSL is justified then why is Zimbabwe not justified now ?

Economic sanctions should have been imposed on SL long ago for the atrocities it does to Tamils. The failure by the UN and the IC made Mugabe to ignore and snub at both the UN and the IC. Why should the UN be in such a hurry to impose economic sanstions on Zimbabwe when the murderous leaders of SL are allowed to be free from sanctions and travel bans, inspite of documented evidence of gross human rights violations ?

Is it not because Mugabe has black skin and Mahinda has light skin ?

The world is decaying and will decay more rapidly because of SL and its culture of impunity. Till justice is meted out by the UN to SL, this world will continue to decay rapidly and be an unpeasant place for all its inhabitants.

Posted by: Sam Thambipillai | July 7, 2008 10:48 AM

There is a difference in the situation between Northern Ireland rebels and the LTTE. The Irish speak English but they are Catholics. In Sri Lanka people speak two languages - Sinhala and Tamil. There is hardly any difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. Neverthless, Sri Lankans practice all faiths - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianism, Islam and Catholicism.

The fact that Mr McGuinness being a former IRA fighter who led his movement through a complex peace process, and is now deputy first minister in a power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland, will not apply to Sri Lanka

The rebel leader among the Tamils murdered everyone including foreign leaders according to their own opinion. Further, among the LTTE leaders it is a fact one leader has killed the other for supremacy on the pretext of ‘traitor‘ according to their dictionary. In addition, a number of intellectuals, moderates and professionals during the period of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and even thereafter were murdered on the orders of Tamil Chelvan and others purely to become popular. Till to date the LTTE kept silent for thousands of murders and people were reluctant to raise their voices through fear of life. I am only posing a pertinent question as to his answers when queried by the Sri Lanka delegation and the Press. Anton Balasingam was bluffing when the Press asked about the situation at Kilinochchi after the so called CFA was signed by individuals without any status that VP and the Tamils are one and that Rajiv Gandhi and the Indians are different. So too is the case of Tamil Chelvan. Just imagine how the Tamils and the IC are been fooled. Surely there is a difference between a self-proclaimed person and a democratically elected person. In my view, the rebels failed to accommodate various shades of views and instead they were arrogant and expecting everyone to treat their statements as Gospel Truth. Really they were bargaining for time. They have to study lessons from Bismark and Cavun Cavoor (who accommodated various shades of opinion through diplomacy) as to how they unified Germany and Italy respectively. As for the rebels, the negotiators should be well versed with various constitutions and international relations. At present even the behaviour of LTTE spokesman Nadesan not only signals their weakness but also provokes the major parties of Tamil Nadu. They must stop the tactics of Pol Pot of Cambodia and stop earning enemies.Instead having lost two opportunities,they must find ways and means of compromising for peace negotiations.

Simultaneously, the Sri Lanka government too was not honest in its dealing for a power-sharing system. First the Sinhalese leaders in power are not steady with their stand on power-sharing and are keen to drag this issue. Recently the statement of Maithripala Srisena to lay down the arms and discuss it within the concept of a Unitary Constitution indicates that are going back to square one. Power-sharing does not mean to discuss within the concept of Unitary, but Federalism which has been accepted throughout the world. His statement raised doubts not only in the minds of the Tamils but also in the minds of India and the International Community. What has Maithripala Srisena lost in pronouncing federalism as the final solution to the ethnic issue. Surely President Mahinda Rajapakse and Maithripala Srisena would have read the draft constitution of Dr.G.L.Peiris and Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam during the Chandrika’s period. Why did Mahinda Rajapakse and Maithripala Srisena failed to oppose the draft constitution and unable to realize that federalism promotes power-sharing and Canada stands as a symbol. There can be two heads of powers in the constitution - one for the Central Government and the other for the Provinces within a united Sri Lanka. There is doubt whether he is also trying to become a champion among the Sinhalese by using the word “Unitary“. Even the Sinhalese politicians cannot forget the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord which signals power-sharing. It is regret to observe that they are selling the country. This being the attitude of the government politicians, how on earth can parties to the conflict come to a compromise. Compromise comes to the scene as a result of mutual understanding between two parties. Instead they cannot boast of victories and the writer is absolutely correct that those victories will not be conclusive. Both the government and the Tamil Tigers are foolish because they are playing with numbers. What is required is a compromise for which a Mediator is required but not a facilitator. It is then a meaningful peace process negotiations can be achieved at the negotiating table
A.Rajasingam

Posted by: A.Rajasingam | July 8, 2008 06:00 PM

Of course the only people who can solve their problems are the people themselves as Martin McGuinness says. But he should not forget that there was a 30-year period where negotiations were tried and agreements reached, alas to be broken before the ink was dry. It is unfortunate that the next 20 war-years perhaps have not achieved anything tangible for the Tamils thanks to the entanglement in somebody else’s ‘war on terror’ and the south engineered Karuna split. Nevertheless, the Tamils are able to walk with their heads held high despite the prominent bootlickers undermining the Tamil cause, without whom the govt would have lost all credibility in the eyes of the IC.

It is the intransigent state that made the Tamils take arms. The President came to power on a hard-line manifesto voted exclusively by the Sinhalese. (That shows the mind of the Sinhalese). He fed the Sinhala people the fairy tale of Tiger demolition. They loved it and are asking for more, however vulgar that may be, even after being sanitised with labels of terrorists, fascists etc. Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the govt. An interesting observation is that whilst the Tamils see the Tigers as their saviours, almost all the Sinhala people want to see them annihilated. (Their silence as to what should happen after annihilation is ominous and speaks volumes too). The govt has raised the expectation amongst the Sinhala population. This Genie cannot be put back into the bottle that easily. We shall have to wait a few years - at least one year requested by Brig. Fonseka - for the govt to get tired of fighting and the people to become sensible. Until then it is too early for negotiations.

Unfortunately Mr. McGuinness, it may be that the planets are dictating war for the present. But I have a feeling that the planetary influences could be countered by heavy weight nations taking a benevolent stand for justice and righteousness, favouring self-determination of Tamils!

Posted by: 2ndClassTamil | July 8, 2008 06:25 PM

Before anything is done to bring peace in Sri Lanka, the failure by the journalists to maintain the culture of tabloid justice in Sri Lanka should be rectified. Many journalists in the South try to gloss over the truth and look ridiculous. The rise of punditry has blurred tabloid justice.

The Sinhala media have a secret agenda. They know the magnitude of the secret, which is no secret at all to others. Journalists offer opinonated or completely speculative comments to cater to their secret agenda. For this reason they are not interested in gathering factual information.

The state and the Sinhala media have vested interest in promoting and winning a war that is cruel, full of human rights violations and unwinnable in the North East (NE). They publish their version of truth that is no truth at all. Scholarly analysis is misleading from such untruthful or less reputable information.

Oppressors and the dicatators have their grip of the country through media. They have no respect for truth. Mahinda Rajapakse often calls the journalists to give a “pep talk” to them on what to write. What he says to them is abandon your free thought, analysis, opinion or judgement and comment to appease me and my attempt for Tamil genocide.

For this reason the tabloid newspapers are hesitant to reflect the mindset of citizens and journalists on the events that are of importance for peace and prosperity of the country.

Fortunately, a few journalists in the South have not lost their heads inspite of threats and intimidation by the state. Even the kidnap and murder of over 17 journalists have not altered their dutiful vision to bring the truth and fairness of journalism to the people and their country.

Yesterday, The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor called for the arrest of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. This is the first arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court against a sitting head of state.

The prosecutor said ” what happened in Darfur is a consequence of Beshir’s will”. He also said “the crime of genocide is a crime of intention.”

Mahinda Rajapakse may be the next sitting head of state to be issued an arrest warrent by the International Criminal Court. Rajapakse’s will for murder, rights violations and destruction in the NE and his intention for the genocide of Tamils would qualify him for his arrest.

Perhaps then tabloid justice and journalistic - Sam Thambipillai

Posted by: Sam Thambipillai | July 15, 2008 10:15 AM

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