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“Terrorism has no borders” - Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia

[May 16, 2002 - 11.30 GMT]

Terrorism has no borders, if the world needs to be free and all of us are to walk free, terrorism must be stamped out wherever it exists, Janaka Perera, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia said in a speech delivered recently at the Australian Institute for International Affairs in Melbourne. 

“I am sure if all other countries who wish for peace would make it very clear that there is no question of the division of Sri Lanka into two separate states on ethnic grounds, if they make it clear that Sri Lanka is the traditional homeland of all communities free to settle wherever they wish, if all countries of the democratic world implement UN Resolution 1373 I am sure all of us can become partners in this process of peace in Sri Lanka,”

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s current peace process Ambassador Perera said, “Today the world has become a global village. Isolation is no more. Each country is inter-dependent on the other country. Therefore I believe the firm and strong action taken by the countries like the US, Canada, Australia, UK and India condemning terrorism and freezing their funds, have had a major impact on this peace process.”

“The time has come for all nations who are Sri Lanka’s friends to join in the development and rehabilitation of the North, East and the South so that youth could be weaned away from the path of violence,” he added. 


Full text of Speech: 

Sri Lanka at the Cross Roads 

Talk by H.E. Major General Janaka Perera, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia, on 30 April 2002 at the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Branch, Melbourne.  

"President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs Victoria Branch,

Dr. Leo Teller, Committee Members, Ladies and Gentlemen of this most distinguished gathering. 

You might wonder why I have specially decided on the word "Cross Roads" in my selected topic. I believe all of you are aware that Sri Lanka has embarked on its journey for peace for the fourth time since conflict began nineteen years ago. After the events of Sept 11th 2001, everyone is very focused on conflicts in the world, specially acts of violence and terrorism. In the 1980s and the 1990s, terrorism was a threat mainly faced by developing countries. For several years, at international fora, Sri Lanka called for terrorism to be recognised as a dire threat to peace. On 11 September 2001 the United States suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in world history and terrorism emerged as a threat to the entire international community. Today there is no state, however powerful, that can afford to ignore this problem or seriously consider dealing with it alone by itself. Terrorism can be exported across state boundaries and across the oceans. Therefore it has to be fought and extinguished in whatever part of the world it exists.  Sri Lanka is an island that may appear large, but it is smaller than Tasmania.

It has a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual community who call Sri Lanka home. The majority, the Sinhalese constitute 74% of the population, the Sri Lankan Tamils constitute 12%, the Indian Tamils of recent origin who inhabit the central part of Sri Lanka and work chiefly in the tea plantations constitute 6% of the population, the Moors 6% and Burghers, Malays and others 2%. The area that’s been claimed as a separate homeland by the separatists of Sri Lanka, constitute a third of the land of the whole country and two-thirds of the coast: On the Western side up to Puttalam, encompassing a part of the North Western province and on the Eastern littoral, it comes down to the Southern province. Today I will take you on a short journey of the history of Sri Lanka to illustrate what we might call "opportunities, lost opportunities or events of significance". I'm not here to pass judgment on the leaders of this country, whether they be Sinhalese or Tamils, for the opportunities that have been missed. 

The recorded history of Sri Lanka begins with the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka 2500 years ago. Sri Lanka's history and culture are inextricably linked with Buddhism. Sri Lanka, during her history was united under one king who derived legitimacy as the custodian of the Buddhist religion. At times, when the center weakened, the preferred principalities exerted their authority to become semi independent. But in Sri Lanka I must say the adherents of every religion have the right and the opportunity to practice whereever they may be. In fact you will find a temple of the Buddhist faith, a kovil of the Hindu faith, a mosque of Muslim faith and Church of Christian faith, close by to each other.  

The colonial influence in Sri Lanka dates back to 1505, when the Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama pioneered a sea route to India with assistance from Arab navigators. Every colonial power that came to Sri Lanka has left its mark on the country. 

The Greeks, Romans and Arabs pre-dated the Portuguese as traders with Sri Lanka. The Arab traders came to gather the ivory, the precious stones and spices such as cinnamons, cardamom, cloves and pepper, which were highly priced in Europe. The Portuguese came to conquer and to convert. Following the initial contact in 1505, they established a trading Fort in Kotte in 1517. Soon, however, they got involved in the politics of Sri Lanka because the island was then divided into three areas, each ruled by a king, with the King of Kotte claiming suzerainty over the whole country.

The King of Kotte, Buvenekabahu the 7th, who ruled over the eastern and southern parts of the island, had a problem with his brother. The Portuguese got entangled with local dynastic politics and subsequently tried to capture the Jaffna Peninsula, which was under king Sungili - a Tamil king. But when he was defeated and captured by the Portuguese, it was a Sinhala king of Kandy who sent the army to defeat the Portuguese and regain and install Sungili back on the throne. That showed at that time as far as the communities were concerned, there was no difference. A later Sinhala king of Kotte, Rajasinghe 1, gave the Portuguese landing rights in Batticaloa harbour. 

Subsequently, because the Portuguese were getting too involved, the Sinhala king of Kandy, invited the Dutch, who were then in India, and gave them the right to come into the Trincomalee harbour. But later they thought that getting rid of the Portuguese would once and for all rid Sri Lanka of the foreigner. But the Dutch decided that since they had helped the king, they had a right to stay in the island. It was, according to a saying of the times, like exchanging pepper for chilli. The Dutch, regarded the Moors as rivals in trade and began persecuting them, as well as the Roman Catholics. In this situation, it was a Sinhala king in Kandy who gave refuge to the Moors and Catholics by re-settling them in the hill country and in the Batticaloa district. 

In order to get rid of the Dutch, the Sinhala king then invited the British. But the British had bigger ideas than the Portuguese or the Dutch. When events led to the conquest of the Kingdom of Kandy by the British in 1815, the whole of Sri Lanka, for the first time in its long history came under foreign rule. 

What is significant in Sri Lankan history is that the last three kings of the country were Tamilians invited from South India. Therefore at that time it was not ethnicity that counted but of right breeding. That's what the community believed in. The British, during the 133 years they ruled Sri Lanka, did many things for the development of the country. They developed a railway system, built a network of roads, and established a strong civil service, a vibrant judiciary system, a good health care system, universal education and democratic system of government.  

That's the good side of the British rule. On the downside, in order to ensure that their control continued without any problems, they started to divide the community: the accepted policy was divide and rule. So they divided the Sinhalese and the Tamils, so much so, that when Sri Lanka obtained independence in February 1948, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam Sr., said: "We must have 50%-50% representation: 50% Tamil and 50% all the other communities which was not accepted but was offered a 47% of the representation for the Tamil community despite the fact they comprised only 12% of the total population. But unfortunately that was not accepted and as the historian Professor Arasaratnam says, that was the first missed opportunity.  

Then from 1840 when the British started opening up the Central Hills for plantations, it was thought that the bulk of the development was going to be in the Central Province. The Northern people - the Tamil community from the Jaffna Peninsula, who were very hard working and very energetic, found that they did not have sufficient land for development of agriculture which was the traditional economic base of Ceylon or Sri Lanka as you know today. Therefore the bulk of the northern Tamil community sought employment in the government sector or the civil service. 

With that trend of independence, the peripheral villagers, who were the majority Sinhalese, started getting free education. In Sri Lanka education and the health system are free. With universal free education from the kindergarten to the university, the aspirations and demands of the people expanded. The Tamils, Moors, Sinhalese had all unified to fight to win independence from British rule. Freedom was achieved because all communities were united. But once they won independence, they started fighting among themselves. That was the beginning of the downfall.  

In December 1949 Mr. Chelvanayagam broke away from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress.  Mr. Chelvanayagam then stressed that if Sinhalese could form a nation, so could the Tamils. The next step was significant. It was the victory of the Nationalist or the Socialist party of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956. He said, "since the vast majority of the people are Sinhalese, the vast majority is not English educated, therefore I will make Sinhala the language of administration. At that time, the administration of the country was in English and the elite were all English educated. 

This created another milestone, There were many Burghers, Tamils and Moors in Sri Lanka who felt that they could not work in Sinhala. The Burghers started migrating to Australia. The declaration of Sinhala as the official language led to a protest by the Tamil community. A pact then signed between Mr. Bandaranaike and Mr. Chelvanayagam in 1957 was soon abrogated. 

In 1970 there was another pact between Mr. Dudley Senanayake and Mr. Chelvanayagam, which too was abrogated. In 1976 during the Vadukoddai Convention held in Jaffna, Mr. Chelvanayagam declared he would campaign on a platform for a separate state. He said it was upto the Tamil youth to take up arms if the Tamil people failed to get their objective, which was to achieve the state of "Eelam". It is very clearly stated in the Vadukoddai declaration. 

If we think the violence originated only from there, we must also look at the South. Because some people may runaway with the idea that this problem was there only in the North. If you look at the south, the first insurrection in independent Sri Lanka started in 1971. The educated youth of the deep south took up arms. They  tried to overthrow the Socialist government of the late Mrs. Bandaranaike, but was  neutralised in one week. For the second time, the South erupted again. This time more violently. It started with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and it was controlled by December 1989 with the capture of the old leadership of the JVP or the southern rebels. 

If you look at it properly, there have been youth uprisings in the South and in the North. As much as people like to say it is ethnic, I would like to say that in my personal view, yes, but it's more socio-economic. Otherwise how do you account for the insurrections in the South?  Insurrections in the South were predominantly Sinhalese uprisings against a democratically elected government. 

The uprisings in the North were also against elected governments because if you take the North and South, the bulk of the people were highly educated. In fact, until 1970 the bulk of the university entrants were from the North, then from the South. Mrs Bandaranaike's Government, in 1971, introduced standardisation and the district quota system in order to enhance the opportunities for the vast majority from the not-so-developed areas to enter universities. The Sinhala-Only policy of 1956 and standardization and district quota system of university admissions may have acted as catalysts in the uprisings that followed, but the seed for a separate Tamil Nation commenced well before these events. 

In 1987 Tamil was also made an Official language and standardization and the district quota system were modified to make the arrangement more balanced. 

Now we have come to this process of peace, which I'm sure everyone of you is interested in. For the fourth time, we have embarked on a peace process. The first Peace Talks took place in 1985 in Thimpu (in Bhutan) with the facilitation of our big neighbour India. This failed after three months and fighting started again. The second attempt at peace talks were in 1987 when the Indian government played a role to achieve peace in Sri Lanka. They sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in July 1987. An Interim Council was created with the majority of the places being given to the representatives of the LTTE or the Tigers. But at the last moment, the LTTE pulled out and the Tigers started fighting the IPKF. 

The IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka's North and East in 1990 and the newly elected President Premadasa started a dialogue of Peace with the Tamil Tigers from May 1989. In June 1990 while the peace talks were on in Colombo, with Anton and Adele Balasingham, Mahendraraj, (who was number two in the LTTE) and Yogaratnam, the Eastern commander of the LTTE surrounded all the police stations in the Eastern Province. The Police were told it was a misunderstanding. They were told to surrender all weapons  and promised that they would be escorted back to safety, after which  peace talks with the Government would continue. Having faith in the promise, 628 policemen surrendered to the LTTE. None of them was ever seen again. All of them, it is believed, were executed. That was the end of peace talks in 1990. 

The fighting which started again in June 1990, was more intense than before. With the change of government in 1994, Her Excellency President Kumaratunga came on a platform of peace. She tried to negotiate Peace and 100 days later in April 1995 the talks collapsed with the sinking of two ships in the Trincomalee harbour and the downing of two aircraft in Jaffna with missile attacks by the LTTE.

Now this time, the Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNF Government have embarked on a quest for peace. As a first step, they are striving to create an atmosphere that is conducive for trust and confidence building. Priority is being given to easing the restrictions on the passage of people and goods and for infrastructure development in conflict affected areas of the North and East.

They've allowed the free movement of people from North to South and vice versa and have even welcomed the LTTE to enter the political mainstream. You might ask: What's the difference  this time? This time, I believe there's no time-frame for the discussions. The MOU is being monitored by Scandinavian countries before a committee of monitors and for the first time it is underwritten by the whole international community including India, after the sad events of Sept. 11th 2001. 

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister and Government have proven their sincerity to the peace process by going beyond the expectations. However, if the peace process is to succeed like in a marriage both parties must be sincere and work hard towards success. Because terrorism has no borders, if the world needs to be free and all of us are to walk free, terrorism must be stamped out wherever it exists. And as UN Resolution 1373 categorically states, under no circumstances can terrorism be justified. The CHOGM Declaration of March 2002 in Brisbane , Australia, condemns terrorism and calls on all member nations to take action to stop funding of terrorism on their own soil. 

How could the international community help? Today the world has become a global village. Isolation is no more. Each country is interdependent on the other country. Therefore I believe the firm and strong action taken by the countries like the US , Canada, Australia, UK and India, condemning terrorism and freezing their funds, has had a major impact on this peace process. If the international community, instead of confining its support to rhetoric, goes beyond to ensure action, then no party can abandon this peace process. 

Financing of terrorism, networking of terrorism, violence and terror in any country should not be tolerated, because one day the consequences of that will befall their own country. If you look at Al-Qaeda, people are talking of the attacks in New York and Washington. Where were they trained? In Afghanistan. What was the battle? Against the Soviet Union. Who financed them? I'm sure all of us are aware how it happened. America went to Afghanistan to get the Soviets out. Who reaped the consequences of 11th of September? 

The LTTE was trained and financed in India. But they did not hesitate to fight the IPKF nor assassinate Shri Rajiv Gandhi. 

Terrorists are no respecters of persons. They have their own agendas. Therefore, terrorism is not confined to Sri Lanka or India or the Middle East. I believe if the international community acts decisively now when the opportunity is here, a democratic ideal could prevail in Sri Lanka. Freedom of movement, freedom of settlement for all people whatever community they belong to is possible in Sri Lanka, without having democracy in one part of the country and authoritarian rule in the other part. The settlement envisaged by the Honourable Prime Minister is a free and democratic system catering for the aspirations of all communities of Sri Lanka within the territorial integrity of the country, as it exists today. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude my talk with this thought: All of us love democracy. It is the Western world that says there should be freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of settlement. And I must say that America has made it very clear that whatever settlement that takes place in Sri Lanka, it must acknowledge the territorial integrity and unitary status of the country. A separate state on ethnic grounds is not viable nor is it acceptable to the international community. This fact has been made very clear by the US Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell. When the Under Secretary of State Mrs. Christina Rocca visited Sri Lanka in March this year, she reiterated what Mr. Colin Powell had stated. Time and again, Mr. Ashley Wills, the American Ambassador in Colombo also has stressed this position. 

Most revolutions and acts of violence are fall-outs arising from socio-economic problems. The time has come for all nations who are Sri Lanka's friends to join in the development and rehabilitation of the North, East and South so that youth could be weaned away from the path of violence. 

Australia has been a close friend of Sri Lanka. We have been associated together for 158 years. Australia is the second largest investor in Sri Lanka with investments of  over half a billion by 43 companies. Among these companies are Ansell, Pacific Dunlop, BHP, P&O and Telstra. I think there are opportunities for more companies to go and invest. 

I am sure if all other countries who wish for peace would make it very clear that there is no question of the division of Sri Lanka into two separate states on ethnic grounds, if they make it clear that Sri Lanka is the traditional homeland of all communities free to settle wherever they wish, if all countries of the democratic world implement UN Resolution 1373 I am sure all of us can become partners in this process of peace in Sri Lanka. Wouldn't that be a worthwhile achievement? Thank You! 

(Source: Serendib News Australia)



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Last Updated Date: May 16, 2002  - 11.30 GMT.

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