Join hands to arrest spread of violence- EU Commissioner

[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 January 2006, 12:35 GMT]
Mrs Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations, European Commission in a message issued Thursday said that inspite of the escalating violence "Sri Lanka's leaders may yet be able to build on to pull back from the brink: it is the profound desire of the people of Sri Lanka for peace," and added that "it is imperative that the government, other political parties and the Tamil Tigers heed the call of the people and join hands to arrest the spread of violence prevailing in the north and in the east."

Full text of the message from EU Commissioner follows:

Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner
As I commemorated the first anniversary of the tsunami on December 26, I was particularly saddened as I considered Sri Lanka's future - one year on after the terrible wave claimed 30,000 of its people, we may now be witnessing Sri Lanka's slow but resolute drift back towards civil war.

I hope I am wrong but the record in December is ominous. Over 60 soldiers have been killed and over 80 wounded in Sri Lanka. 21 suspected rebels have been killed. A leading Tamil parliamentarian was gunned down at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Human rights abuses continue. Civilians are being targeted or caught in the cross-fire. Extremists and so called "proxy groups" daily seek to pit Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims against each other. Last weekend, a suicide bomber sank a naval vessel in Trincomalee, killing a further 13 sailors. I share the fears expressed by Hagrup Haukland, head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission: "If this trend of violence is allowed to continue, war may not be far away."

The contrast with Aceh, the other main victim of the tsunami, could not be more striking. The people of Indonesia found strength from the tragedy of the tsunami and have come together to start to resolve their 25 year old civil war. The tsunami in Sri Lanka on the other hand has driven the people further apart - polarising differences between groups and creating conditions for more conflict, not peace.

But there is one optimistic note that Sri Lanka's leaders may yet be able to build on to pull back from the brink: it is the profound desire of the people of Sri Lanka for peace. The citizens of this beautiful country know better than any the horror of war, having lost 64,000 of their fellow countrymen in the last conflict - more than twice the number claimed by the tsunami. Indeed, we must not forget the over 100,000 displaced people who are still in camps, still waiting to return to their homes destroyed by the last war, and whose development needs are still long from being fully addressed.

It is imperative that the government, other political parties and the Tamil Tigers heed the call of the people and join hands to arrest the spread of violence prevailing in the north and in the east. It would quite simply be a tragedy if the various leaders involved failed to meet this basic demand of the people. For this reason, the debate that has now started over the venue for reviewing the implementation of the ceasefire agreement hardly inspires confidence. The state of the ceasefire is so perilous that Sri Lanka can ill afford to waste time on talks about the venue for talks! For all who truly seek settlement through negotiation rather than war, surely they have more urgent priorities.

The Tokyo Co-Chairs - a donor group comprising the US, EU, Japan and Norway that was set up in 2003 - met in December and sent similarly urgent messages for talks to start and violence to stop. India was associated with the meeting as well. I hosted that meeting and can vouch for the urgency of concern felt by all the countries around the table.

The Co-Chair group also underlined again the great international resolve to help Sri Lanka help itself. The renewed commitment of massive funding for the peace process and tsunami reconstruction already made available or through support of the peace process itself. Norway's tireless efforts in seeking to facilitate this peace process - and indeed the Co-Chairs resolute support to Norway in this role - are further credentials of the international community’s desire to help.

Individually, the European Union through its Community budget is itself ready with further funding. Above and beyond the next Euro 50 million planned in 2006 for tsunami reconstruction, the Commission is ready to make a substantial multi-year pledge of grant aid for the conflict affected areas for a further seven years up to 2013, if the conditions locally permit us.

The European Union has recently also agreed a trade package for Sri Lanka. The "GSP Plus" status gives Sri Lanka's exports the most favourable low-duty access to the EU market of any Asian country. This gives a clear competitive edge to Sri Lanka's export industries and could boost growth and create tens of thousands of jobs. But such potential will be lost if the country decides to return to war.

The international community can offer help in form of trade and aid but cannot and should not seek to offer political solutions. Sri Lanka's political future lies solely in the hands of Sri Lanka’s leaders themselves. They have to come from considering the legitimate aspirations of all communities and designing a way to live together. This is a time for courage and difficult decisions and a time that will reveal the real intentions and level of commitment of those assuming leadership on both sides.

To reinvest in peace may seem today a most difficult and tortuous route but it is Sri Lanka’s only road to prosperity and stability in the long term. To turn to violence may appear to be the line of least resistance now but will prevent Sri Lanka from realising its economic potential, will cause massive human suffering again and ultimately will only delay the inevitable return to the negotiating table.

As I pondered Sri Lanka's future on December 26, I know what the tsunami victims and the victims of Sri Lanka’s long and bloody conflict would demand from their leaders as a fitting memorial to their memories. They would want to see them renew their energies for peace and prosperity and not let the country sink back into another tragic episode of civil war. That is not only the commemoration that Sri Lanka’s long list of victims would want if they could speak to us today but it is also what their memories so profoundly deserve.

 

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