Event ReportsPublished on Nov 05, 2010
The ORF conference stressed that the Sri Lankan state must be very sensitive towards creating the right perceptions about its policy of inclusiveness towards the Tamil minority
Taking the Sri Lankan peace process forward

An international conference, held in New Delhi on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, highlighted the urgent need for greater reconciliation efforts between different ethno-religious groups in Sri Lanka while underlining the significance of creating the right kind of environment for a lasting political settlement in the island nation.

The conference, organised by the Observer Research Foundation, stressed that the Sri Lankan state must be very sensitive towards creating the right perceptions about its policy of inclusiveness towards the Tamil minority.

Inaugurating the conference, Foreign Secretary Nirupma Rao said India was planning to provide an additional assistance of US $ 382 million for rebuilding the country which was in addition to our earlier commitments.

Ms Rao said India was keen to assist the island nation in every possible form towards resolving the problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The most immediate challenge before the Sri Lankan government was the plight of people who have come out after decades of conflict in northern and eastern parts of the island nation, she said.

The problem of IDPs should be solved through negotiations for a permanent political solution of the ethnic issue; the Foreign Secretary said adding that it was the opportune time to rebuild the country and promise a new era of hope to the people.

Referring to the famous Marshall Plan as a guide, experts said that increased donor assistance, private investment and industrial growth would aid post war reconstruction in the island nation. Instances such as erecting Buddha Statues in Northern Sri Lanka, therefore, must be avoided at this crucial moment. Since rehabilitation was in its heart a political task, Sri Lanka must avoid falling into the trap of the ‘dependency syndrome’ and should facilitate grassroots participation.

Pointing out to the situation on the ground, it was said that post war reconstruction had been slow for a variety of reasons – de-mining, screening of refugees to identify LTTE supporters, reconstruction of destroyed property, and most importantly, rebuilding of the local administration. Further, some of the steps taken by the government had further exasperated the condition. Local and international NGO’s were not being allowed to operate freely, and to large measure, Sri Lanka had become an ‘over securitized State’ over the years, thus hindering rapid reconstruction.

Also, the government was criticized for ‘centralized planning’ which had led to ‘zero participation by local communities’. There was also significant information void as many migrants, in many cases, were not aware of ‘where to go’. To put things in the right perspective, however, the government had taken many positive steps – checkpoints had been removed, lines of communication restored, and public transport restarted.

Many speakers expressed their views on the controversial 13th Amendment. A result of India Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, the legislation seeks to devolve powers to the provinces. However, the commonly held view was that bureaucratic inertia, and not ethnic bias, resulted in Colombo encroaching on the powers of the provinces. Provincial hospitals and farming resources being taken over by the centre were cited as some of the examples to prove the point. Discrepancies in the Sri Lankan Constitution over the division of powers between the Central and Provincial government has further created difficulties in the process of devolution.

The speakers offered insightful suggestions to solve the centre-province problem. First, all legal ambiguities should be removed from the Constitution. Second, the fiscal design should be rearranged. Third, local level administrators should be placed under the authority of the Chief Minister and not the central government, as is the case now. Lastly, police forces must be drawn from the same communities where they are to serve.

The growing trend among the youth of the Indian-Tamil community to disassociate from working in plantations was causing socio-economic strains. Besides, those who migrated during the recent military operations continue to live in economically fragile conditions.

The roles of Sri Lankan Tamils, other minorities and Diaspora were dwelt upon and it was said that very little discussion had taken place regarding the division of fiscal powers between the Centre and the periphery. There was a proposal for a devolved fiscal set-up that could be a stepping stone towards a durable political solution to the enduring ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It was mentioned that Muslims in Sri Lanka required an official avenue to present their views in policy-making, administration and national security. It was further mentioned that a national consensus would emerge from a consensus within individual entities. Sri Lanka’s post-war moment has created certain openings for the minority communities towards political engagement and this opportunity should be utilized. The divisions that came with conflict could now be bridged through a consensus among all sections of society. Here the role of the Tamil Diaspora was said to be important as it could support initiatives towards a political settlement in Sri Lanka. In the session discussing the ‘Role of India and external actors in Sri Lanka’, it was mentioned that India’s own past role in the long conflict had been many-sided and that it supported a negotiated political settlement acceptable to all political entities in Sri Lanka.

Its positive engagement in the peace process advanced now through de-mining activities, housing and rehabilitation of IDPs as well as Northern infrastructure development were all a part of wider engagements in Indo-Lankan bilateral relations. It was said that moving away from involvement, mediation and assisting in conflict-resolution, India was at present focusing on economic co-operation and prudent diplomacy as the mode of engagement in pursuing relations with Sri Lanka. Need for increased trade and investment and to move from the Free trade Agreement (FTA) to a comprehensive economic cooperation was outlined. On the diplomatic front the approach was cautious with due consideration to the sensitivities of the Sri Lankans. It was further said that Indian corporate sector had taken considerable effort to engage with northern Sri Lanka.

It was mentioned that the United states and China had evinced interest in contributing to the Sri Lankan rebuilding process however while the Chinese continued to contribute massively there was a perceived weakened role of the West and India. The fact that India had played an important role in the war against LTTE and that the role had not been acknowledged was highlighted.

It was said that Sri Lanka’s own post-conflict development programme, wanted to build on regional and international synergies and economic connectivity. Many sections in Sri Lanka’s large Diaspora had demonstrated interest in contributing to peace-building activities. It had to be clarified to the Diaspora what needed to be done. It was said that in conjunction with international underworld syndicates, some surviving LTTE operations such as human-trafficking, visa-frauds, smuggling and financial irregularities still had an impact on the Indian Ocean.

It was concluded that coming to terms with history required a creation of new realities and that it was a challenge for Sri Lanka with the help of India and other countries to work towards sustainable democracy and growth.

The speakers included Mr. Nihal Rodrigo, former Foreign Secretary, Sri Lanka, Mr. P.P. Devaraj, former minister and Chairman, Foundation for Community Transformation, Mr. Mangala Moonesinghe, former Ambassador to India, Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan, member, experts committee, APRC, Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka Democratic Front, New York, Dr. T. Jayasingam, Senior Lecturer, Eastern University, Dr. A.S. Chandrabose, Open University, Sri Lanka, Dr. S.M. Husbullah, Senior Lecturer, Peradeniya University, Dr. Sumanasiri Liyanage, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Peradeniya University, Dr. Cecil Yuvi Thangarajah, Senior Lecturer, Westminster College, London, Dr. Muthukrishna, Sarvananthan, Senior Researcher, Point Pedro Institute of Development, Sri Lanka, Dr. SHM Jameel, Consultant, Marga Institute, Colombo, Ms. Sherine Xavier, Home for Human Rights, Colombo.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner, Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, also took part in the conference. The Indian participants included former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Lalit Mansingh, former Dy NSA Ms. Leela Ponnapa, former chief of RA&W and Vice President of ORF Centre for International Relations Mr. Vikram Sood, Former Ambassador Mr. Dilip Lahiri, National Security Advisory Board member Prof. V. Suryanarayanan, Mr. N Sathiyamoorthy, Director ORF’s Chennai Chapter and others.

Report prepared by Kaustav Chakrabarti and Akhilesh Variar

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