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Book Review : Rebuilding of Sri Lanka

[Hindu, Monday, 16 August 2010 20:45 No Comment]

Rajapaksa appears more focussed on economic development, including that of the Tamil-dominated North

11oeb_winning war FROM WINNING THE WAR TO WINNING PEACE – Post-War Rebuilding of the Society in Sri Lanka: Edited by V.R. Raghvan; Centre for Security Analysis, 9-B, Chesney Nilgiri, 71, Ethiraj Salai, Chennai-600008. Price not mentioned.

A POWDERKEG IN PARADISE – Lost Opportunity for Peace in Sri Lanka: Jon Oskar Solnes; Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., A-149, Main Vikas Marg, Delhi-110092. Rs. 750.

Since the end of the military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam more than a year ago, the Sri Lanka watchers have been preoccupied with the question of how the government plans to go about the task of reconciliation between the majority and minority communities. Constitutional changes have apparently been rendered easier by the massive victory the coalition headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa scored in the parliamentary elections earlier this year, winning nearly two-thirds of the seats.

While there are some signs that the government may be considering constitutional reform, President Rajapaksa appears more focussed, at the moment, on economic development, including that of the Tamil-dominated North and East regions, prompting the view that he is chasing Sri Lanka’s long-cherished “Singapore-model” dream — one in which the country’s development and prosperity, rather than sweeping constitutional reform, will be the key to co-existence and reconciliation between ethnic communities.

On economy

Several aspects of what needs to be done were gone into at a 2009 seminar in Colombo organised by the Chennai-based Centre for Security Analysis along with the Hans Seidel Foundation of Germany and the Colombo-based Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, and the first of the two books under review is a compilation of the papers presented at that seminar.

Perhaps the most interesting of the papers are the ones dealing with economic reconstruction, because so little is known about the economy of Sri Lanka’s Tamil regions, whereas the possible range of political solutions have been long discussed — the 13th amendment as a starting point for devolution, its full implementation, and ideally adding to it. These points are made in the book as well.

Muttukrishnan Sarvananthan, a development economist, advocates “political emancipation through economic development.” In his view, economic development would also require a change in the political status quo, with greater devolution to the provinces. Unlike other Tamil academics, he places the responsibility for the economic rebirth of the North and the East squarely on Tamil politicians, whose leadership he blames for having been obsessed with language, land, and political rights, to the exclusion of economic rights.


Sarvananthan urges the Tamil United Liberation Front, the only party that is committed to the rule of law — which he thinks is a precondition for economic development — to recast itself, dropping the word “liberation” from its name, and focus on securing economic rights for the people of the North and the East.

Saman Kelegama makes out a case for overseas development assistance on the lines of the Marshall Plan in post-war Europe and talks about even sector-wise potential for economic development in the conflict-hit regions. It is however doubtful if the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka — even with all their hyped-up geo-strategic attractions for outside powers — can bring in that kind of funding, especially in these difficult times.


If the focus of this book is on the way forward, Sri Lanka’s recent history forms the core of the second book under review. Written by Jon Oskar Solnes, an Icelander who was chief of staff of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that supervised the Norway brokered government-LTTE ceasefire, A Powderkeg in Paradise deals with an important phase in the conflict, discussing how the ceasefire broke down and set the stage for the LTTE’s final defeat.

To those who knew that the ceasefire was built on a glaringly faulty premise — that the LTTE wanted a negotiated settlement within a united Sri Lanka — its eventual breakdown was foretold on the day it was signed. But Solnes, like many other western observers, does not see it that way. Hence the sub-title of the book: Lost Opportunity for Peace in Sri Lanka.

Disappointingly for an “insider account”, there are no major revelations in the book; it is a faithful narrative of what is already in the public realm about the ceasefire and written carefully, striking a balance between the government and the LTTE, with the decisions/actions of both sides called into question.

The author, however, provides a racy account of the happenings after the truce had effectively ceased to exist, starting with the suicide attack on Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in April 2006. The chapter that speaks about how the SLMM head of mission found himself at the receiving end of shelling by the Sri Lankan Army in Pooneryn, and the ceasefire monitors’ rift with the government, makes interesting reading. Solnes asserts that the SLMM did not think of Ponneryn shelling as a deliberate attack. He also provides glimpses of the temperamental personality of Palitha Kohona, the head of the secretariat for the co-ordination of the peace process (now Sri Lanka’s top diplomat at the United Nations), and the SLMM’s rift with him.

It was a revelation of sorts, at least for this reviewer, that there were differences within the SLMM — made up of monitors from Nordic countries — on dealings with the government. Solnes also discloses that, as the ceasefire monitors were being projected as “white Tigers,” they feared attacks by Sinhalese extremists and so scrupulously avoided any open declaration of their affiliation with the SLMM. For all his interactions with the LTTE high command, Solnes reveals only snatches of those dealings —

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