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“A historic opportunity for Sri Lanka”

[Hindu, Sunday, 15 November 2009 09:19 No Comment]

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said Sri Lanka has a historic opportunity to permanently change the relationship between the majority Sinhalese community and the minorities, including the Tamils, in the post-Prabakaran era.

Delivering the Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture in the presence of the island nation’s Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and a host of other leaders here, Mr. Mukherjee said while a military victory has been achieved, there is also a great victory to be achieved in the political arena when every stakeholder owns the process and gains something from it.

Though Mr. Mukherjee’s visit was planned some time ago, it has acquired a special significance in the light of the fast-changing political landscape of the island nation after President Rajapaksa on Thursday granted permission to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Sarath Fonseka, to retire with immediate effect, and the possibility of the General’s foray into politics.

Mr. Mukherjee is scheduled to have breakfast with President Rajapaksa on Sunday and exchange views on bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and India as well as the latest political developments ahead of the convention of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), where dates for parliamentary and a possible presidential election are expected to be announced.

It is immediately not clear if the disquieting disclosure by Gen. Fonseka, who led the Eelam War IV as Army Chief, that Sri Lanka on October 15 asked India to place its troops on alert to counter a possible coup in the island nation, would figure in the interaction between Mr. Mukherjee and his interlocutors here.

In his Kadirgamar memorial speech Mr. Mukherjee said, “A political settlement can only mean one thing – a victory for all people of Sri Lanka irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, numbers or race. It is important for all communities of Sri Lanka to realize that a political settlement is not a zero-sum game. It need not and should not come at the cost of another.”

He further said an effective elimination of terrorism and secessionism from Sri Lanka offers the island nation an opportunity to shape history, permanently change the complexion of the relationship between the majority community and the minorities, address the legitimate grievances of all communities and bring permanent peace and stability to this great nation.

“These are sine qua non for building the Sri Lanka of the future – a future in which all communities will live side by side and enjoy the same rights and privileges and get the same opportunities.”

The Minister reiterated the readiness on the part of New Delhi for further help to ensure a speedy re-settlement of the nearly 3 lakh war-displaced, and India’s support in addition to the Rs. 500 crore assistance for the re-construction of critical civil infrastructure including railways in the war-ravaged north and east.

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