Minister GL Pieris Preaches to Gagged Audience in Sydney

By special correspondent in Sydney

At a meeting to address to the expatriate community in Sydney held at the Macquarie University in Sydney on Sunday evening, Sri Lanka's Constitutional Affairs Minister and Leader of the team negotiating peace with the terrorist group LTTE spoke to a large gathering mainly expatriates on the the topic 'Sri Lanka Eyes Peace'.

The meeting was jointly sponsored and organised by the Sri Lanka Association in New South Wales and four other Australian academic and research bodies as the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Macquarie University.

The meeing clashed schedules of the the much awaited cultural show of Mr Nisshanka Diddeniya of Maname and Sinhabahu fame with the renowned dancer Channa Wijewardena and the sermon of budhist monk Ajahn Brahmavanso of Perth in Sydney , and thereby audience Prof GL Pieris' talk constituted a high proportion of tiger lobby groups who had taken vantage positions in the lecture theatre. Pieris was cheered away and dissentors shouted down when the audience attempted to query the answers. Pieris lapped up the popularity he enjoyed at the meeting.

When questioned on the sacrifice of a third of the land and two thirds of the coast to terrorists Pieris said 'if we go on like this that's what will happen, if we don't give power then we lose the land' to a cheering crowd sympathisers.

On questioned on why 74% sinhalese have not been represented on the peace talks as against the 8% muslims who has a representative Pieris pontificated 'in that case we have to segment further to give the castes also a place Karawe, Durawe and the catholics etc' .

Pieris said asymmetrical devolution would be needed and that essential areas like Finance and Defence needed to be kept at the centre but did not say anything of the future of the land and resources. He brought laughter to the audience when he said that the provincial council system that was imposed on the country by President JR Jayawardena works all over the land excepting where it was really needed. He stopped short of further comparison.

On arrival at the hall for this much awaited event the Sri Lanka community were surprised to find that no verbal questions were allowed and only questions written on transparencies were accepted. With unfamiliarity of the use of transparencies some had written questions on the blank paper backing of the transparency or had easy no access to transparencies, once the lecture commenced.

At the question time after the 50 minutes of the talk office bearers of the Sri Lanka Association Ananda Amaranath and Hema Perera picked the audience questions and passed the ones they thought it fit to the minister. Pieris himself eagerly sought after the questions that were presented to him prior to the meeting by certain persons 'asked what sort of support the expatriate community could provide to the process'.

Outside the hall a large group of protestors shouted slogans and demonstrated against Pieris for the concessions being allowed to terrorists in the peace process.
At the meeting Pieris said he maintained that the talking must go on however at some point the people will feel frustrated if no progress is made. He said he has close contact throughout with the LTTE spokesman Dr Anton Balasingham and that Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran is involved in the process as the formal discussions talke place from time to time in Thailand and later in Oslo.

When questioned why the Sri Lankan flag was not allowed to be hoisted at the Thai venue Pieris said the flag is not the issue and such an event is not important. The talks were the important matter and the talking and formal and in informal goodwill gestures need to continue.

Not a single question of the prominant activist Asoka Subhawickrema was taken up in the 45 minutes of answering done by Pieris. Pieris further went on to say that it is important to consult the expatriate community and the need of being close to their sentiments, however the questioning of the pressing issues were hindered by the barrier caused by of the gagging of the audience. The audience had to listen to whatever debatable answers were provided and no useful academic interaction or political debate ensued.

Many Sri Lankans who had made changes to their work and personal schedules, travelled from far and sacrificed for the event expressed outrage of the changes made without notice by the organisers. Pieris' meeting of the expatriate community was given high expectations which provided a large crowd of nearly 400 persons but turned out to be another stage managed of his minders and the event petering out to be a damp squib.





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