by Boston Globe editorial
JUST WHEN it appeared there was a chance to resolve the conflict between minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese on the island nation of Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga seized the occasion of a visit to the White House this week by her political rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to sack four Cabinet ministers and suspend Parliament.
The chance to end Sri Lanka's devastating 20-year civil war should not be missed because of political gamesmanship or personal petulance. President Bush, whose spokesman reiterated US support for the peace process in Sri Lanka yesterday, should engage more directly in that process. He could do so by inviting Kumaratunga for a White House visit. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, she has more power than her prime minister, and she resents his upstaging her in Washington or at the United Nations.
The opening for a negotiated peace came Saturday, when the group known as the Tamil Tigers proposed an interim self-governing authority for the Tamil areas in the island's northeast. This is a landmark offer. If the government of Sri Lanka responds by negotiating an agreement acceptable to both sides, the cease-fire that has been in effect since February 2002 may finally become the prelude to a lasting peace.
Such an agreement could facilitate the resettling of Tamil war refugees and reassure Sinhalese that the Tigers have truly abandoned their original call for an independent Tamil nation. And if Tamils see they can live securely within a unified Sri Lanka, enjoying political autonomy in the northeast, they might permanently renounce both the means of war and the goal of independence.
The war has taken the lives of 64,000 people and set back the Sri Lankan economy. Extremists on both sides have disfigured relations between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities and among Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. In the high-security zones of the northeast, where the Sri Lankan Army occupies some Tamil areas, there has been a terrible toll on civilians.
The reality is that the Tigers already control most of the Tamil region of the northeast. So it is in the interest of the Sri Lankan government to treat the Tiger proposal as a basis for negotiating an accord that would enable displaced Tamils to return to their homes and settle down peacefully, abjuring violence.
The political drama staged by Kumaratunga repeats a pattern of politicians prolonging the conflict by appealing to popular fears. The Tamil Tigers have come forward with an offer worth debating and improving. Bush could do his part by having Kumaratunga to the Oval Office and telling her to serve her people by making peace.
Boston Globe Editorial
Posted November 6, 2003