On Peace Process of Sri Lanka
Minister Karunasena KODITHUWAKKU, M.P.:
of fighting a war,
we indicated to the public that we must go for an alternative."
their language, whatever their color, whatever their religion,
Sri Lankans' march hand in hand towards the common goal
to a peaceful, prosperous future."
Karunasena KODITHUWAKKU, M.P.in his office in Sethsiripaya
Another interview (
Dance Festival of Sri Lanka) with Sri Lanka's
Minister of Human Resources, Development, Education &
Cultural Affairs Karunasena KODITHUWAKKU, M.P., on "Peace
Process of Sri Lanka" at his office in Sethsiripaya
Building in Colombo on January 14, 2003.
Interview and phographs by Bircan ÜNVER
was warned previously that going to Sri Lanka was
very dangerous because of the conflicts and civil
war between the Sinhalese (Sri Lankan government)
and Liberation Tigers of Tamils Eelam (“LTTE”
also known as the Tamil Tigers) along with the Sinhalese
which has lasted more than two decades.
my stay in Sri Lanka for 5 weeks, “Peace Talks”
were in its fourth round, and already an authorization
had been given to the Tamils for FM Radio by the
government which is led by the United National Party
(UNP). There are several projects, locally and internationally
sponsored, in order to develop some of the Northern
villages and regions, which is considered all in
ruins during the long lasting conflicts.
particular, the First Annual Dance Festival brought
together the Tamils accompanied by 97 dance groups
from all over Sri Lanka at the three day parade,
as well as on the stage. Which is the very first
time after the two decades conflict and since the
‘peace process has began’ that these
groups have united peacefully for such an event.
climate of Sri Lanka, --and the dance festival--
has demonstrated a great willingness towards to
harmony and peace by the government - the Sinhalese
and the Tamils.
* * * * *
Brief History: Independence of
WWII, in the wake of independence for India, it
was evident that Sri Lanka would be granted independence
very soon. In February 1948, Sri Lanka, or Ceylon
as it was still known, became an independent member
of the British Commonwealth. The first independent
government was formed by DS SENANAYAKE and his United
National Party (UNP). His main opponents were Tamil
parties from the north of the country and from the
tea plantations and communists.
did the conflict did start?
10 years after independence was granted, English
remained the national language and the country continued
to be ruled by an English-speaking, mainly Christian,
elite. Many Sinhalese thought the elevation of their
language to ‘official’ status, to be
used in government and official work, would increase
their power and job prospects.
in the middle of this disagreement (English versus
Sinhala, and Christian versus Buddhist) were the
Tamils, whose mother tongue was Tamil. When SWRD
Banaranaike (Bandaranaike was assassinated by
a Buddhist monk in 1959) enacted the "Sinhala
Only" law, making Sinhalese the official language
of the country. Tamil protests were followed by
violence and death. The Tamils began pressing for
a federal system of government with greater local
autonomy in the main Tamil-populated areas, the
north and east." (Source: Lonely Planet
- Sri Lanka, 8th Edition.)
sculpture of SWRD Banaranaike, who inacted the "Only
Sinhale" law as a official language of Sri
Lanka in 1956.
parlament building in Colombo Front
How did this process begin? All the world is going in
most people are aware, in the election held in December
2001, the percentage that the United National Party won
was greater before the people requested a mandate to find
a solution to the ethnic conflict toward political negotiation.
Instead of fighting a war, we indicated to the public
that we must go for an alternative. We suggested those
to negotiate with Liberation Tigers of Tamils Eelam ("LTTE"),
and to find the accepted settlement within the united
Sri Lanka. The basic power condition was that as long
as they are prepared to be in one country, we are prepared
to give all the power and to share the power in the center
and in the territory. And all their people gave that mandate
to us. We immediately, without any delay, signed a memorandum
of understanding. The basic features of the memorandum
of understanding was a seize fire. And to use the good
office of knowledge in government as a facilitator and
to start peace talks. About 4 rounds by this time we have
come to that and the majority of Sri Lankans who voted
and who stressed the values afterwards are still behind
the government in the process, not only that, even the
international community from the farest place like United
States to the far East, to Japan, the European countries,
India and the rest of the South Asian countries all of
them are backing it. And so far the progress is very satisfactory.
This is a very critical problem because many are analyzing
it to interfere with war and impact, but my analysis is
that this war was really committed in 1956 with the declaration
of "Sinhala Only." So that is the beginning
of the separation.
Are you willing to change this law?
Yes, in fact we have corrected many of those things, thus
What are those?
The language policy had been changed in 1980’s.
Now not only Singhalese but Tamil is a national language.
English has been recognized as the ling language. So we
have sorted out that problem but the conflicts start with
that but the first communal riots were in 1958. The first
time, it was with the armed forces and the police forces
that went in from the very beginning. But the first time
the army camps were set up in early 1960s. Of course that
time is when all violence started. But it turned into
armed struggle in 1970s. In 1972 itself, all Tamil political parties formed one party
called Tamil United Front. Even the Tamil members of other
political parties also joined to this umbrella. In 1976
it was the turning point, because they declared that except
separation, no other option is available.
they used the term Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). With their separation, the war had began,
and arms came later in 1976. For the last 26 years, this
armed struggle was there. The only option was given, separation.
Of course, some Tamil political parties, with the 13th
amendment and establishing provincial council, agreed
to share the power in the central and western provinces
but not the LTTD, which continued with the war. The first
time they gave up the separate state was with the signing
of the memorandum of understanding. It is the biggest
victory. Now the LTTD principle has agreed to stay in
power in the United Sri Lanka. Whatever the power structure
has to be that has to be negotiated. And we have to convince
How many Tamils are in Sri Lanka?
In terms of population, out of now almost 20 million,
about 12% are Sri Lankan Tamils. But of course we have
another Tamil group called Plantation Tamil, those who
have come to Sri Lanka 2-3 centuries ago. They are Indian
in origin. All Sri Lankans are of Indian origin. Singhalese
are the descendents of Prince Vijaya who came to Sri Lanka
about 2500 years ago. The Tamils also are decedents from
India, but of course, most recently they came here and
are Plantation Tamils. They total about 6% of the population.
So altogether roughly 18% in this country are Tamils.
In addition to that we have another 7% Muslims.
entry floor of the Cultural Ministery office at
Sethsiripaya Building in Colombo.
front of the Banagala Library in Colombo.
Do you have any conflict with Muslims?
No, not so far. They are also asking for their share in
the eastern province. All these Tamil political parties
are asking to unite, to combine the north Tamils on the
basis of the Tamil speaking, but Muslims are not demanding,
it is too young to use Tamil language but ethically we
are a different group religious wise. Therefore it's a
very difficult, critical challenge. Nevertheless, we are
committed as a government to find and negotiate a political
settlement. And the Tamil side also believe we are going
to form a political solution and leadership within the
different Tamil communities. And the general public would
also like to find a solution and to be in one country.
mosque in Colombo 3.
I read that the government has already given an authorization
to the FM radio station for the Tamils.
Thus, I wonder, do they have a radio station now?
Yes, they have. The argument is that they also must convince
their public, because while many other groups object to
come to the central parliament, and share the power in
the LTTD continued to this war. Suddenly they have also
given up the separation. So now they have to convince
the Tamil public so the reason they have given is we need
some way of communication. The request came in and of
course in this present world giving a radio station to
somebody will not come even if we refuse. Still they can
get a satellite and set up some chips somewhere or go
to another country far away and set it up. We know that
while we are here we can tune into BBC and to Voice of
America. All these things are available so why not for
a radio station for the Tamils? Rather then to use very
difficult ways it's a good way of building confidence.
I read in The Island newspaper a comment about the peace
process which defines that it needs more transparency.
How do you comment on this?
Of course, at the negotiating table you can't make it
100% transparent. I mean in that case you must keep a
journalist with you. The negotiation doesn't mean that
anybody will announce the basic principles of negotiation.
The final solution has to be transparent. No doubt at
all but reaches the goal you have to mix, give and take;
so what you are offering and what you are sacrificing.
And the other side also have their own ways. Thus, we
are going to find a compromise and basically changing
the position of the both sides.
Some people still do not trust the Tamils in Colombo?
Oh, the suspicion is there. Singhalese have suspicions
of Tamils, Tamils have suspicions of the Singhalese. Armed
forces also have similar suspicions (Tigers, LTTE's).
It is natural. It's in politics; we have to accept these
realities. But as I told you the final solution has to
be transparent. Whatever we offer, whatever they would
agree has to be implemented towards the constitutional
So does the constitution change on the way as well?
Certainly, the agreement has to be implemented and it
has to come to the constitution other wise there is no
How many years is one governmental term in Sri Lanka?
So what do you expect to accomplish at the end of these
We have three major challenges. One is finding a solution
the this ongoing conflict as a political solution. Second,
economically, we are in very bad shape. So we have to
regain the economic growth the needed. Then the challenges
we face, the poverty, the unemployment, crime, the basic
flower is Sri Lanka's national flower. This lotus shape
pool was made
during 10th Century in Pollonaruwa, where is second ancient
capital city of Sri Lanka.
How do you think of solving these problems?
There is no overnight solution.
What are your basic plans towards these solutions?
Already plans have been in place. In fact, the plans have
now been processing. But not only that, even signals are
very positive, even the stock market with investors confidence
or even the responses coming from the unemployment bureaus.
We need the international corporation to find around Sri
Lanka’s neighbors. So in that sense, everybody is
cooperating with us.
Someone commented to me that there is no freedom of expression
in Sri Lanka, in the news and television; you cannot write
or say everything you want! Do you have some restrictions or censorship
in the media both print and electronic?
There is no restrictions in media. No restriction at all.
It would go to the publishers, the Sinhalese media, various
political groups, you can feel that the freedom of expression
is there. Television, of course they have their own restrictions.
Maybe government, maybe private but to have their own
TV station is not an easy thing. But having a newspaper
or to issue a tabloid newspaper is not difficult. To test
the standard of freedom of expression, you have go into
the print media.
first ancient capital city of Sri Lanka - 2500 BC.
Which channels do you think will make the economical growth
I think, we are finally getting into the service sector.
This will be really the gate way for South Asia.
What type of services might those be?
We will be providing the highest caliber labor professionally
to the world, not only in this country. In addition to
that the local service sector will be mostly on finance,
banking, shipping, insurance, tourism, transport, those
are the areas of concern.
What about the agriculture?
What we have today, that will be much more improved, the
productivity will be higher and the agriculture and provisional
agriculture both will be ready and more reliable.
And lastly, technology?
Absolutely because we are in it now. Even yesterday, I
was ready to declare opening a third country training
program. A program which sponsored by Japan. Some parts
sponsored by Africa and Asia and the Pacific, but with
the training program conducted by Sri Lankan research
Temple in Colombo
If I come back and meet with you in 10 years what will
be the big difference or achievement you foresee in Sri
You will see that Sri Lanka is the most developed over
all in South Asia. India will be far ahead industrially
and technologically then us, but still India will be with
more than 1 billion people who have their own problems.
With 20 million population, what Singapore did in East
Asia, Sri Lanka will be able to do in South Asia. It will
be a service center. Sri Lanka would be the center for
finance, center for shipping, insurance, education, health
services and tourism.
Would you like to add anything?
- We hope that the international community will understand
the difficulties we are facing and our approach, and the
enthusiasm of the public to come out to defeat the challenges.
Thus, we need their understanding and cooperation.
The Very First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka
- Dances, Masks
and Drums of Sri Lanka
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Actual inverview: January 14, 2003, Colombo.
©Light Millennium, Bircan Ünver, March
25, 2003, New York.