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War weary Sri Lankans speak up

A peace lobby has been set up to call for resumption of talks between Govt and LTTE, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2006 13:01 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

With hundreds dying and about 100,000 getting displaced in the latest round of fighting in the North-East, and the capital city of Colombo also getting rocked by bomb blasts, Sri Lankans are beginning to yearn for peace and speak up for peace.

The pro-peace lobby that has emerged is interesting in as much as it cuts across party antagonisms and has members of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government as well as the opposition United National Party (UNP).

The National Anti-War Front (NAWF), which has sprung up, includes government ministers like Dilan Perera, Tissa Vitharana and MervynSilva, and ruling coalition stalwarts like Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

It has the UNP stalwart Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Left leaders like Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Nadarajah Raviraj, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem and leaders of Indian Origin Tamils like P Chandrasekharan and Mano Ganesan.

The only groups not represented in the NAWF are the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Buddhist monks' party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU),which are vocal supporters of the war.

A rally held by the NAWF in Colombo on Thursday was disrupted by activists close to the JVP and JHU, coming under an anti-terrorist umbrella organisation.

Buddhist monks opposed to the NAWF were in the thick of the scuffle.

They asked the NAWF to hold the rally in the Wanni in the LTTE-held territory, if they had the courage to do so.

NAWF activists, in turn, asked the monks to take a gun and fight the LTTE in the battle front if they had the courage to do so.

But for the attack by the pro-war front, the NAWF rally would have been quite a civilized affair with a common appeal to restore peace.

Basic document was even-handed

The basic document of the NAWF called for an end to the hostilities and the commencement of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

"We demand that all parties honour the Ceasefire Agreement. We demand that the LTTE refrain from all acts of violence."

"We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to refrain from violence and not to encourage a culture of impunity," it said.

The NAWF recalled that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised in his election campaign that he wanted to take the road to peace and was ready to meet the LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, face to face, to resolve all the issues.

"We urge the President and the Leader of the LTTE to talk to each other in resolving issues. We urge this to take place soon, when everything else seems to have failed," the NAWF document said.

"We also urge the LTTE to transform itself into a political party and get involved in the political process," it said.

The NAWF wanted the LTTE to commit itself to a solution within a united Sri Lanka where both sides could achieve a "win-win" situation.

"We urge the LTTE to make a statement assuring the minorities and other political entities full representation and democracy in the North and East," it said.

Sri Lanka was not isolated from the world, which was watching it, the NAWF pointed out.

"Many war criminals are tried in the International Criminal Court and more will be tried in the future," it warned.

" We are aware that extremist parties are urging the President to go to war," the NAWF said.

"They are the JVP and JHU and the front organisations which they encourage such as the National Patriotic Front."

Anti-JVP/JHU group in ruling coalition

The NAWF rally and the attack on it staged by the supporters of the JVP and JHU showed cracks in the ruling coalition, headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The NAWF is opposed to the JVP and JHU, and some government ministers and alliance partners are party to this opposition. As such, they find themselves at odds with President Rajapaksa who is firmly aligned with the JVP and JHU.

Political observers say that this anti-JVP/JHU group may rally round former President Chandrika Kumaratunga when she arrives in Sri Lanka in September to re-enter the political arena.

This group is likely to tie up with the dominant section in the opposition UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, even as some from the UNP migrate to Rajapaksa's camp.

The NAWF already has leading UNP members like Rajitha Senaratne.

The existence of a pro-Kumaratunga lobby in the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to light recently.

When the security for Kumaratunga was scaled down, many leading members of the party like ministers John Seneviratne and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle vocally protested.

First Published: Aug 18, 2006 19:37 IST