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ht-home-logoThere were many firsts in the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka: An incumbent president was defeated; parties specifically representing different races and religious groups —  the Jathika Hela Urumaya for the Sinhalese, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress along with the All Ceylon Muslim Congress — came together on a common political platform; corruption was a major issue in the pre-poll campaign; and now a specific timeframe has been set for reforms.

However, the most important responsibility of the new government will be settling the national question. While the country owes him a debt of gratitude for eliminating terrorism from the country, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa did nothing about the commitments he made in 2009 to ensure inclusive peace.

inclusive governanceAs a member of the Liberal Party, I urged Rajapaksa to implement the 13th Amendment, which created Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka, but met with no success. I understand that there could have been problems about some aspects of the amendment but those could have been resolved through discussions.

When we negotiated with the TNA, MA Sumanthiran and I found a solution to what had previously been considered the vexed question of powers over land. We met stakeholders, asked them about their apprehensions and assuaged those fears.

Unfortunately, two members of the government acted in bad faith, one even refusing to fulfil instructions the president gave us to act on what had been agreed with the TNA.

Reaching consensus on these matters is a priority and the new government should set a time table for this. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed because they allowed talks to drag on without any purpose.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
At the Defence Seminar 2012 – Towards Lasting Peace and Stability
August 10th 2012

I will begin with what might seem a paradox in the current context. I believe that much more must be done by the armed forces to promote reconciliation. I know that much fuss is now being made about the role of the armed forces in the North, but while I can understand opposition to what might be termed militarization, which must be avoided, I sometimes feel that the formulaic approach of those opposed to the work of the armed forces is calculated almost to prevent reconciliation.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in the almost hysterical approach to the rehabilitation programme conducted by government. Whilst trenchant but honourable critics of government such as the TNA National List Member of Parliament, Mr Sumanthiran, have gone on record as praising the rehabilitation programme, the diehards in the international community were adamant that there should be no support for the process. Indeed even the UN Country Team, which used generally to understand the need to work with government, whilst continuing to remind us of our obligations (as far as its senior leadership was concerned, in the days when I had governmental responsibilities, so can testify to the excellent cooperation we enjoyed), seems later to have tried to prevent any of its members entering into the centres where rehabilitation was conducted.

Thankfully, the International Organization for Migration was made of sterner stuff, and worked effectively with the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, whilst always, it should be noted, giving the CGR and his team credit for their achievements and acknowledging the need for programmes to be driven by government. But the contrast between them and others was so marked, that I sometimes wondered whether those extreme elements in the international community, who have made so much of the running in the last couple of years, were not deliberately trying to provide a rationale for the oft proclaimed criticism of the LTTE oriented diaspora, that the former combatants were held incommunicado.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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