Amid claymores and human bombs,it is time to take stock the peace building strategies

-Sudarshana Gunawardana

The life of a young woman living in Mannar, in Northern Sri Lanka, is insecure. She lives amidst the fighting between the GoSL security forces and the LTTE. A young man in Buttala, Southern Sri Lanka, cannot apprehend the agonies and miseries that she goes through. Put another way, young Sumanasiri in Buttala cannot imagine the sufferings of young Sellama in Mannar.

Activities aimed at building peace are identified in three tracks:

Track one – Activities focused on engaging the protagonists to the conflict

Track two – Activities focused on engaging the intelligentsia and artists belonging to the different sides of the conflict

Track three – Activities focused on engaging the communities that represent the different sides of the conflict

During the heyday of the peace process between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), we saw multiple activities in all three tracks. Especially under the track three initiatives, the main emphasis was on making southern people aware of the miserable plight of the people live in the war torn North and East of the island as a result of the protracted armed conflict.

People to people exchange programmes, peace marches, workshops, discussions, peace concerts and numerous other activities were held in order to achieve these objectives. These activities focused on raising awareness. Massive amounts of information were disseminated among the people after translation from foreign languages. At least interpreters and printers benefited from these activities.

Now, however, with the shaky ceasefire now over, war has returned as the typhoon follows the wind. Peace activists who came from abroad have left the country and local doves now associate with hawks.

If we were to ask young Senehelatha, who lives in Southern Sri Lanka, her opinion about the present life of Nadarajah, who lives in the North, we might hear the following: “Yes, I know Nadarajah is suffering. The cause of his suffering is war. To save him from the scourge of the war, we must work to end the war. To end the war, one has to address the root cause of the war, which is Prabhakaran and the Tigers. So we must annihilate the Tigers to bring an honourable peace for Nadarajah and the rest of the citizens.” As war is imminent, it is also inevitable that Nadarajah’s elder brother, who was forcibly recruited as an LTTE foot soldier, will be killed; that Nadarjah’s brother-in-law who has moved to Colombo will be detained indefinitely and that Nadarajah’s family will have to live in a camp designated for IDPs.

We now live in a reality that is more terrible than our worst nightmare. Young Sumanasiri from the South has infiltrated the jungles of the Vanni in the North, in order to set up claymore bombs. Sellama from the North has arrived in south, wandering the streets of Colombo in the South, with explosives tied to her belly, waiting to become a suicide bomb.

Even in remote villages, small cooperative shops close its operations once a month for stock taking. In the present circumstances, isn’t it time for civil society to take stock of the strategies they have pursued for building peace in the country?

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