Wedding of former LTTE combatants, Vavuniya June 2010.

 

Having spoken last month in the Emergency Debate, I feel it makes more sense this time round to reflect not on the Emergency Regulations that have still to be continued, but rather on the changes that we have been able to achieve over the last couple of years. In particular I think we should rejoice that the difficulties under which we all had to live during the last few decades have vanished away, and we are able to move freely, without fear of terrorist activity. 

Of course that needs to be qualified, since we must recognize that terrorism is still on the agenda of a few, which is why sadly we need to continue with some of the Regulations. However by and large I would say that there are very few people still committed to terrorism in this country. Sadly, there are still many abroad of that tragic mindset. Even more sadly, they have the capacity to offer incentives and make threats that could turn a few people away from the path of peace and prosperity. We need therefore to be careful. That is why we must recognize that, though the special measures that were in place have been reduced, and will be reduced further, we cannot assume complacently that all danger has passed.  

While ensuring vigilance, though, we must not allow the few difficulties that still remain to blind us to recent achievements in reducing tensions. We should therefore not concentrate, as perhaps understandably those who earn their living by advocacy do, on what they see as a half closed door. Instead we should register how the door has been opening over the last few years, and how this government has striven, without swerving from the paramount responsibility of security for its citizens, to fulfil its commitments with regard to creating a more open society – and in particular in areas that suffered from terrorist repression for so long. 

Thus in the East we have seen in the last few months the removal of practically all restrictions. We must welcome too the disarming of all groups, which was a bone of contention in the past. Unfortunately it would have been neither practical nor proper to have forcibly disarmed them earlier. Those members of minority groups who had dared to oppose the LTTE continued to be in danger of their lives, at a time when the LTTE was still capable, as unarmed villagers found at tragic cost during 2007 and 2008, of dealing out death and destruction. 

The government position at the time was that the security concerns of those who had rejected terrorism could not be gainsaid, but that weapons should not be used nor displayed in public. This indeed led to the memorable assertion by one of those silly groups that collected enormous amounts of money to attack the government, that ‘Though weapons are currently only visible in Batticaloa in the hands of the military, there is a deep, widely held conviction that armed groups have not permanently disarmed but only put their weapons out of sight for the moment‘. This, I should note, was the same group that, in a desperate attempt to stop elections, triumphantly quoted a citizen of the East who had said, “Yes, it’s quiet in Batti now. But it was quiet on the morning before the tsunami, too.” This is the type of wisdom that understands it is a short leg that does not reach the ground, that cares nothing for facts that contradict their prejudices. 

It would be nice now if those silly groups acknowledged that, as soon as the danger was over, government ensured the disarming of all groups. However such niceties are beyond those who earn their living by speaking of disaster and dysfunction. Fortunately we have too the testimony of actual citizens of the area, for instance former students I met on a recent visit to the East. Happy though they were two years ago that the LTTE threat had been removed, they were still conscious of continuing tensions, of the residues of a culture of violence and the need for sustained security precautions. Now however it was heartfelt relief they expressed, in indicating to me that all was well, that movements were free, and that commercial activity was proceeding apace. 

IIFA Cricket Match, June 2010

 

Then again we should register the rapid progress made with regard to former LTTE cadres. I was pleasanty surprised last Friday, at the cricket match which was one of the high points of the recent stimulating interactions between India and Sri Lanka, to see former combatants enjoying the spectacle. They were avidly taking photographs, not only of Indian film stars, not only of Sri Lankan cricketers, but also of those adventurous Indian and Sri Lankan politicians who ventured onto the field. 

It was heartening to note the manner in which one young lady greeted the former Commissioner General of Rehabilitation and his family, the manner in which he took such pride in what seemed her confident reintegration into society. We can appreciate that heartfelt reconciliation is difficult, since doubtless we all remember the fears and suspicions we felt for so long. But we should remember too that the vast majority of those who were dragooned into serving the terrorist cause were innocent youngsters who have the potential to become fully integrated citizens of this country. Seeing the interaction between individuals who had much more exposure to danger than us, I was acutely conscious of how much we had achieved in such a short time in the quest for sustained and sustainable peace. 

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that a few of those who tried to spread death and destruction will be victims of further attempts to drag them back into the fold. I have no doubt that the most effective way of subverting such attempts is to provide satisfactory training for these youngsters, training that includes soft skills as well as vocational expertise, so as to facilitate their reintegration as productive members of society. Unfortunately, though government developed an excellent Action Plan in this regard, with the assistance of the International Labour Organization, resources to implement this have been slow in coming. 

Whilst noting the massive contribution then of  those in charge of Rehabilitation, both now and in the preceding year, their tremendous commitment, their achievements in adverse circumstances, we should request those who seem now only capable of criticism to join together with government in trying to raise resources for those who were victimized by terror into becoming combatants. Their successful absorption into society will reduce the need for continuing vigilance, and defeat those who are still trying to revive terror. 

After all the flip side, as it were, of the Emergency Regulations that still have to be kept in place is Reconciliation. By this we should mean primarily reconciliation that looks to the future, reconciliation that brings people together, rather than a concept of reconciliation that is based on recriminations. It would make sense to give priority to such reconciliation, reconciliation based on providing a positive future to those who were deprived and victimized for so long. That would help them, and us too, to emerge fully from the dark night into which we were plunged, and which we must never allow to fall again.

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