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THE PEACE COUNCIL IDEA SHOULD BE REPLACED BY SOMETHING MORE EFFECTIVE

By Shyamon Jayasinghe,writing from Melbourne

The concept of the Peace Council mooted by the present government is unlikely to come to anything not only because key players in the political field like the United National Party are out of it; but for a more fundamental reason.

The Council is just another official discussion forum on the model of an interdepartmental coordinating body. Such a body would be useful if there was consensus among at least the major players in the government. We know there isn’t. Under such circumstances, parties to this council are more likely to argue from already entrenched positions rather than enter into a discovering mode.

What is needed in the first place, is a fundamental consensus among key non-LTTE groups in Sri Lanka-the political parties, and other major associations, and interest groups, regional representatives etc with regard to the basic configuration on which the national question should be solved. This should be the result of a genuine exchange of views based on the objective of discovering and not merely exchanging rhetoric, dishonestly trying to win a point.

What is clear now is that there is very little consensus among the Sinhalese, Muslims etc other than the general desire not to go to war. Even here, there are some groups whose positions would logical entail a state of war. For instance, there are those in Sri Lanka (although they are outnumbered by expatriate ‘patriots’) who believe in a Sri Lanka that is Sinhala-Buddhist dominated. Such a standpoint to be carried out, requires the island to be in a permanent state of war.Expatrite patriots are not bothered about that because others would be going to war on their behalf!. These individuals and groups do not accept the plurality in Lanka’s social and civic structure as it has evolved over the centuries. There are some within the JVP who have made threats to bring Lanka to the state it was prior to 1505, when the incoming Portuguese had introduced Christianity.

There are others who, although they do not uphold such a position, nevertheless disagree with yielding anything more than ordinary decentralisation as embodied in the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. Such persons and groups would like to give nothing more to the Tamils than the powers that Regional Councils possess . There are others who would agree to give something veering towards federalism but who disagree with the merger of the North & East. Then there is the question of Muslim repercussion and the issue of Sinhala minorities living in the North & East. Finally, there is the very contentious issue of the modus operandi of the ceasefire and of the peace talks. Are the current arrangements with Norway as the facilitator all right? Any alternatives? How best should the monitoring take place? Is it wise to commence talks on the basis of the ISGA? The very concept of an interim arrangement has not been understood by many-the least by the LTTE. However, the proposal to start talks on the basis of their proposal does not mean that the proposal is accepted in part or in total.

I believe that the LTTE may be brought into discussions only after a proper consensus and understanding is reached among the non-secessionists (i.e. all non-LTTE forces) on a host of questions and issues such as those above. A Peace Council can come after this is achieved; not before.

Australia offers two good examples on mechanisms set up to reach consensus: The first was the Summit set up under the stewardship of Bob Hawke when he became prime minister in March 1983. Then there was the more formal Constitutional Convention established in1997 under the Constitutional Convention (Elections) Act. The first was to reach an agreement with regard to the direction on which the economy should move and the place of Labour in that equation. The second had been set up when the current prime minister, John Howard came to power and its purpose had been to come to some common understanding with regard to the issue of a Republic for Australia. Bob Hawke’s Summit, although far less formal, nevertheless was widely representative and most participants entered a genuine mode of discussion that concluded with firm proposals.

The Sri Lankan government may do well to try and approach the national problem on the above lines followed in Australia.



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