Fresh efforts are underway to secure long-lasting peace – Dr. Jehan Perera

There was a time when the Tamil diaspora would have been viewed with suspicion and possibly even arrested if they visited Sri Lanka, since they could have been identified as supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and promoters of terrorism.

On this occasion however, those from the Tamil diaspora visited the island under the banner of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which was banned in 2014 and 2021. On both occasions, the bans were lifted when President Ranil Wickremesinghe took over the reins of government and the then defunct peace processes were restarted.

This visit by a GTF delegation and the publicity it generated aroused the ire of some of their compatriot groups in the West, which have been following a more confrontational course to keep Sri Lanka under the international spotlight.

These groups issued a joint statement claiming that the GTF, “which now represents only a few individuals of the Tamil diaspora, does not fully capture the unified voices of the organisations that collectively represent our community,” adding: “It is important to note that the GTF no longer holds the representation it once did.”

In the past, the Tamil diaspora and Buddhist clergy were seen as the ‘spoilers’ on either side of the divide. US Ambassador Julie Chung affirms that America is supporting the ongoing GTF initiative, which is being facilitated by a section of civil society.

This initiative seeks to pursue a fresh dialogue with the government and other political parties to reach a postwar consensus on lasting reconciliation.

After meeting the GTF delegation and representatives of the sangha, Chung asserted that the US welcomes their initiative to expand cross community understanding and seek lasting reconciliation.

These GTF members have made no claim to represent the entirety of the Tamil diaspora; but this doesn’t matter because they aren’t negotiating a political solution with the government. Rather, they’re seen as bringing goodwill and seeking to build bridges.

According to the local organisers of the visit and their own testimony, the GTF members received a warm welcome in Sri Lanka.

They met with the highest ranking Buddhist prelates in Kandy including the mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters, and also visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which was once bombed by the LTTE.

This is the ideal time for a reconciliation process to take off, and transform into a stable and long-lasting political solution.

The economic crisis, to which a majority of the people have fallen victim, has made them realise that ‘ethnic conflict’ is not a priority. Instead, ridding the country of economic corruption, pillage and class privilege is what matters.

Meanwhile, the high point of the GTF visit to Sri Lanka was the joint meeting between its members, participating Buddhist clergy and Wickremesinghe, who pledged his support to this reconciliation initiative.

This event received a great deal of media coverage through the active involvement of the Presidential Media Division (PMD).

However, there is no getting away from the need for the political leadership to put its shoulder to the wheel rather than leave it to others to perform the Sisyphean task of pushing the boulder up the mountain.

For the past three years, Tamil farmers and herdsmen in Batticaloa have been complaining that the grazing land on which their cattle find fodder is being taken over by Sinhalese settlers for the cultivation of corn.

Grazing land was allocated by the government through a cabinet decision in 2011. Since 2020 however, Sinhalese settlers from Polonnaruwa have been annexing the pasture for corn cultivation.

During a recent visit to the east, Wickremesinghe pledged to solve this problem by ensuring that Sinhalese farmers are allotted land elsewhere. But nothing has happened so far.

The government needs to provide the necessary political leadership to set up the institutions of state power and construct methods of ensuring justice that are embedded in law.

When the words of the highest executive of the land are not met with deeds on the ground, people will invariably lose faith in the system. And when court orders are also not implemented and law enforcement officials fail to act, citizens lose their faith.

It’s in such situations that violence emerges.