At the conclusion of their two week visit to the UK
To the people of Sri Lanka, who recently experienced their 50th anniversary of independence amidst tight security, the 15 year old internal war has been a continuing tragedy. This is a war that has claimed over 50,000 lives and led to over a million refugees and internally displaced persons.
The war, and the ethnic conflict that gave rise to it, are partly an inheritance of a century and half of British colonial rule. At independence in 1948, the country was provided with a constitutional framework that did not reflect the multi-ethnic composition of its population. While being in the midst of war, there is also a political endeavour for a new framework of governance. The search for a lasting solution is a shared responsibility.
The Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland invited us to meet with religious leaders, policy makers, opinion formers, media and expatriate Sri Lankan groups in the UK to share our experiences and concerns. We are thankful to have this opportunity to engage in dialogue, discussion and mutual learning, especially at this time when the United Kingdom has embarked upon a great experiment of devolution within its own polity.
We have brought with us testimony of a shift of attitude in significant groups of people in Sri Lanka that makes the present time an opportune one for renewed efforts to end the war through negotiations. The unexpectedly high voter turnout at the local government elections held in the northern district of Jaffna last month and the growing peace constituency in the south are pointers to the sentiments of a war weary population.
The Sri Lankan expatriate and international communities need to be apprised and be appropriately responsive to this changed context. In our discussions with Sri Lankan expatriates, we heard their strongly held views, and felt that there was much potential for further dialogue.
In order to facilitate the peace process we request all people of goodwill who desire a peaceful and just solution in Sri Lanka to call upon the government and LTTE who are waging war against one another to conduct their military operations with due regard to the civilian population and according to the humanitarian laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. At present the war is fought with few prisoners taken on both sides. Also, the civilians who are trapped in the war zones are severely deprived of access to the food and medicine they need.
Another essential measure is that the two parties must provide journalists with access to the war zones in order for them to cover the war so that the larger population can have a fuller picture of the costs of the war and the plight of their fellow citizens.
In the meantime those interested in being facilitators of the peace process should continue to build relationships on both sides recognising that actions such as the bombing of the most sacred Buddhist temple by the LTTE and the subsequent banning of it by the Sri Lankan government have been two major setbacks to the peace process.
A continuation of the war is not morally acceptable besides being counterproductive to the search for a just and lasting peace. We believe that if the preliminary measures outlined above are implemented, and a middle path and gradual approach which appreciates the cultures of the people is adopted, the space for a sustainable peace process and a negotiated political settlement will open.
Revd Duleep de Chickera