For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
As part of its programme to promote reconciliation after the war, the National Peace Council last week brought down a group of thirty journalists from the North and East to the South. Previously these journalists had engaged with groups of media and civil society activists from the South who had visited their areas. During their visit to the South the journalists met with government officials as well as with a range of other political and civil society actors. Their positive interactions in the South, including both Colombo and Galle, showed them the positive potential there is for normalcy and reconciliation.
In the discussions the journalists identified several issues that troubled them. They spoke of the big road development projects where the contractors came from outside of the North and East and also brought with them labour from outside. They expressed the need for development that would benefit them such as restoration of irrigation networks and fisheries harbours. They pointed out that the failure of the government to beam radio and television signals with adequate strength to their areas deprived them of knowing better what the governments actions and plans were. They also appealed to journalists from the South to give coverage to the peoples problems when they visited their areas instead of giving attention to other matters only. An example given was the recent meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers and the President in Kilinochchi.
The impatience of the journalists from the North and East for quick change for the betterment of their lives was also clearly demonstrated during the discussions. The most serious of their complaints concerned the re-militarisation of the North and East after the war. The reasonable expectation of the people of that part of the country after the war was that there would be some measure of de-militarisation, even symbolically. Spokespersons for the government repeatedly assured the journalists of progress in the future and made the point that it was only a little over a year since the war ended. However, the government has kept the military in control of the North and East and declared its intention to further increase the number of troops and even take over more land for military purposes and also to house the families of the soldiers.
The National Peace Council accepts that the government may find it difficult to solve all the problems of the past within a short time period. But if it is to win the hearts and minds of the majority of Tamil people, it has to find a way to address their needs as soon as possible. The National Peace Council believes that changes in the political realm relating to better practices of governance can be commenced immediately, even if the material reconstruction of the war-destroyed North and East and rehabilitation of the people takes longer to get under way. We urge the government to utilize the existing 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the proposals of the All Party Representatives Committee as foundations for the practice of better and mutually acceptable governance in the country.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.