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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Only Way Out In Sri Lanka Jan 14

Jan 14, 2008 ST
Only way out in Sri Lanka
THE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam score little more than public relations points with their declaration that they would maintain a discredited ceasefire which the Sri Lankan government has said it will formally abandon this week. The outlook is grim. Both sides have missed opportunities to resolve Asia's longest-running civ-
il war. The closest they came to ending the cycle of violence was in 2002 when then prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe sought to trade autonomy for peace with ethnic Tamils, before president Chandrika Kumaratunga overruled him. Several rounds of talks ended in October 2006, leaving in shreds the truce Norway brokered in 2002. Except for a lull in the December 2004 tsunami aftermath, fighting has continued and threatens to bring back gruesome episodes of suicide bombing, massacre, rape and torture. The conflict has killed over 65,000 civilians since 1972. Both the government and rebel leaders need help to halt the madness.

The antagonists, adequately armed to fight but not to vanquish each other, should by now realise there is no military solution. Partition is out of the question. So is persecution of minorities. The long-term answer is political accommodation through constitutional arrangements that guarantee minority self-rule. But first, hostilities must stop, once again with outside help. The United Nations should step in to help or take over from Norway, which lacks the capacity to enforce a ceasefire. Norwegian efforts, including confidence building and human rights monitoring, did succeed in moderating the conflict before the present breakdown. They point the way forward. With international guarantees and, if need be, a peace-keeping force on the ground, the two sides could refocus on working out devolutionary measures that put regional government in the hands of regional leaders. Constitutional reform also has to include provisions to require leaders in Colombo to take into account minority interests rather than allow them to exploit ethnic fears to build chauvinistic political support.

To avoid forestalling a compromise, Sri Lankan diaspora donors - among 700,000 Tamils and 400,000 to 500,000 Sinhalese abroad - should stop financing the conflict. Their support and influence serve only to harden both sides' positions. Ultimately, it is political leadership within an inclusive constitutional framework that will save Sri Lanka. Sinhalese leaders need to resist ethnic and religious insistence on marginalising the Tamil community. The Tamil Tigers should on their part accept that an independent Eelam is unrealistic and settle for a guaranteed political accommodation.

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