Sri Lanka's road to reconciliation

Sri Lanka's road to reconciliation


IT IS ironical that the Sri Lankan leader who was lauded for bringing to an end to 25 years of bloodshed should find himself on the back foot at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo over allegations of civil war excesses.

The lack of a proper inquiry led to a boycott of the summit by some members of the organisation.

All too soon, it might seem to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, some have forgotten the endless strife caused by the armed uprising led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It had devastated the country's northern and eastern regions and terrorised citizens elsewhere. Tamils, on whose behalf the LTTE claimed to speak, were killed or maimed as well.

The militant separatism advanced by the LTTE, famed for its ruthlessness and organisation, posed an existential challenge. Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity were at stake. Yet the war dragged on for decades as no decisive action was taken by leaders.

Mr Rajapaksa acted on the strength of the popular sentiment against the insurgents and sent in his forces to score a definitive victory over them.

Given the Tigers' military preparedness and the extent to which they were entrenched in areas under their control, the battle of 2009 was a messy and unforgiving one.

Excesses and even atrocities scar such battlefields - a characteristic of the rebels' own war against Sri Lanka. Civilian sufferings are a particularly bitter memory of the war and its end. However, the cessation of the conflict allowed the country to embark on a phase of political accommodation and economic reform that continues to evolve.

Sri Lanka, which had become synonymous with bloody ethnic conflict, amazed observers with the speed and strength of its political recovery. For once, there was a real road to peace.

Outsiders can help Sri Lanka along that road. The way to do this is not by interfering in its internal affairs, a politically misguided position whose results would be questionable at best and counter-productive at worst, or by trying to isolate it in the fraternity of nations.

Other countries can help by engaging Colombo and giving it the diplomatic space and confidence to pursue the restoration of ties at home.

It is this constructive support that will help bring Sri Lanka closer to national reconciliation. President Rajapaksa, on his part, should keep that goal high on the agenda. Any absence of international pressure should not make Sri Lanka's political leaders dismissive of the need for social healing.

The country's armed forces won the fight against the rebels. A bigger victory awaits the political elite if they persevere on the road to a sustainable peace.

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