Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Political solution only way - President

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In a televised address to the nation yesterday [June 16th] President Chandrika Kumaratunga dismissed all myths associated with the proposed Tsunami Relief Council. The LTTE will not gain any legal status through this administrative arrangement she assured.

"This arrangement is aimed at reconstructing infrastructure within a two kilometer coastal belt ravaged by the tidal waves. This is a form of decentralized administration very similar to the JVP's proposed policy of decentralization to solve the ethnic unrest in the North and East. The Tsunami Relief Council does not have any legislative power. All funds will be expended by the Government's Treasury and its officials," said the President.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga further said, "It is unfortunate that some sections of the media continue to project this proposed joint administrative arrangement as a 'monster'. On the contrary this is one of the best openings in the path to reach a negotiated settlement to a 21-year conflict. Even without knowing the contents of this administrative arrangement some extremist elements oppose this. We should consider the views of the majority, not that of the few extremist elements... that is democracy".

President said the withdrawal of the JVP from the ruling alliance would not destabilize or weaken the Government though its numbers in Parliament may decline.

Kumaratunga said that while she regretted the withdrawal of the JVP she was determined not to take the country back to a 'no-win war' but to pursue the process of dialogue to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict.

She said the JVP action was not in conformity with the UPFA Memorandum of Understanding because it had agreed to find a solution to the National question through decentralization of power.

The Head of State said that whatever the obstructions, her Government would lead the country to a truly multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation based on respect for human rights, democratic freedoms, peace and justice.

President Kumaratunga queried from the JVP why the LTTE should not be absorbed into the democratic mainstream in the same way the JVP entered it and said "The LTTE should enter the democratic mainstream if we were to progress as a Nation. This proposed administrative arrangement is the first step towards this end. An organization such as the LTTE, which at one point in time did not recognize the Government or even other communities such as the Muslims, has for the first time agreed to work with these parties".

She questioned what was wrong in working with such an organization on behalf of the people affected by the tsunami.

"Our country should follow a path to achieve rapid economic development. The ethnic conflict and the December 26th tsunami have delayed achieving our goals. Several of our friendly overseas nations and peoples came forward to assist us. They have shown faith in our management structures and our stability and are confident the funds pledged will be properly utilized. Therefore, this administrative arrangement is a significant milestone in our path towards peace and prosperity", said President Kumaratunga.

Referring to the JVP's constant lament, 'How could a sovereign Government act in collaboration with a terrorist organization?' the President questioned if the JVP's people friendliness was limited only to the Sinhalese? "Should we allow Tamils and Muslims to starve?" she asked. "The people affected by the tsunami in the North and East are our citizens too they should be rescued" she added.

President Kumaratunga said all communities are represented in the Government and that though the LTTE does not represent the whole Tamil population, it does represent a certain section of the Tamil population and should also be engaged in this process whether we agree or not. "We know that a certain percentage of the Tamil population will vote for the LTTE if there were to be an election tomorrow. Therefore, their representation is essential" the President said.

She recalled the successive mandates given to her SLFP-led alliances during past 11 years to rescue the country from the devastation caused by ethnic strife, corruption, State-sponsored violence and to develop the country.

"The JVP, which was opposed to the Provincial Councils when it was introduced, now has a representation there. I believe that their present protest is baseless as well, they will soon realize that" she said "Differences cannot be solved only by violent means. There are several instances in history where countries have resolved differences through negotiations when all else had failed. As a Buddhist, I do not endorse violence in any form. However in 1995 we were forced into military action when the LTTE unilaterally withdrew from the peace negotiations and started a war", said the President.

"I was very disturbed when some fringe elements among the Buddhists behaved in a very unpleasant manner recently. We should not allow racism or religious extremism to ruin our country." she said.

"Some monks tried to commit suicide by fasting unto death. This is not an issue to commit suicide," she said.

The President said she firmly believed the proposed Tsunami Relief Council with the LTTE was essential for proper rehabilitation and for the long-term peace process and she was determined to go ahead with it.

The President welcomed the offer by the main opposition UNP to support the tsunami administrative arrangement in the North and East and its assurance that it would not act to topple the Government and invited all political parties to shelve their narrow personal agendas. She invited politicians of all hues and persuasions to join the Government for at least one year to solve the ethnic issue and develop this country and added, "After we resolve this issue may be we could go to the people and campaign on other issues".