Our liberation struggle has reached a new historical turning point and entered into a new developmental stage. We are facing a new challenge. We have ceased armed hostilities and are now engaged in a peaceful negotiating process to resolve the ethnic conflict. Our sincere and dedicated commitment to the peace process has falsified and demolished the propaganda campaign carried out by Sinhala chauvinists that we are enemies of peace.
Even on the issue of cease-fire, we took the initiative. We declared a unilateral cease-fire and called upon the government to reciprocate. The new government, which assumed power with a mandate for peace, reciprocated positively to our declaration of cease-fire. The mutually agreed cessation of hostilities came into effect on 23 February under the supervision of an international monitoring team. This cease-fire has been in force for the past nine months. There have been several provocative attempts by certain elements of the armed forces and anti-peace racist forces to disrupt the peace process. There were incidents in which several innocent Tamils were killed. Nevertheless, we maintained a rigid discipline and observed peace. This is a clear demonstration of our genuine commitment to the path of peace.
If a reasonable settlement to the Tamil national question could be realised by peaceful means we will make every endeavour, with honesty and sincerity to pursue that path. Our political objective is to ensure that our people should live in freedom and dignity in their homeland enjoying the right of self-rule. If this political objective could be realised by peaceful means, we are prepared to adopt that method.
We have never shown any disinclination to win the political rights of our people through peaceful means. We have participated in peace negotiations at different places, at different times in different historical circumstances i.e in Thimpu, in Delhi, in Colombo, in Jaffna and now in Thailand. All previous attempts to a negotiated political settlement ended in fiasco. These failures could only be attributed to the hard-line attitude and deceitful political approaches of previous Sri Lanka governments. Now, the government of Mr Ranil Wickramasinghe is attempting to resolve the problems of the Tamils with sincerity and courage. Furthermore, the current cease-fire, built on a strong foundation and the sincere efforts of the international monitoring mission to further stabilise it, has helped to consolidate the peace process. The capable and skilful facilitation by the Norwegians has also contributed to the steady progress of the current peace talks. Above all, the concern, interests and enthusiasm shown by the international community has given hope and encouragement to both parties. The ideal approach is to move the talks forward, systematically, step by step, standing on a strong foundation of peace and building mutual confidence.
As a consequence of the brutal war that continued incessantly for more than two decades, our people face enormous existential problems. The social and political infrastructures of the Tamil nation are in ruins. The cities, towns and villages have been razed to the ground. Houses, temples and schools have been destroyed. An ancient civilization that stood on our lands for centuries has been uprooted. It is not possible for our people to rebuild their ruined social and economic structures. It is a monumental humanitarian problem. We hope that the international community will view the problem sympathetically. We are relieved to learn that international governments have come forward to assist the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war damaged Tamil nation.
Though there is peace in the Tamil homeland, conditions of normalcy have not been restored. Under the cover of ‘high security zones’, the Sinhala armed forces are occupying residential areas and social, economic and cultural centres. Forty thousand troops are occupying Jaffna peninsula, which is a tiny geographical region with a dense population. The military occupation is suffocating the civilian masses and causing tensions. Jaffna, which is the cultural heartland of the Tamil people, has turned into an open prison. The occupying forces are using the civilians as their protective shields. As several villages, houses and roads are entrapped by occupation several thousands of internally displaced are unable to return to their residences. Unless this problem is resolved there is no possibility for normalcy and social peace to be restored to Jaffna.
It has always been our position that the urgent and immediate problems of our people should be resolved during the early stages of the peace talks. The former government of Sri Lanka rejected our position. As a result the peace talks broke down. There was a misconception on the part of the former regime that we were hesitant to take up the fundamental political issues and insisted on the resolution of the immediate problems. But the present government has been taking concrete actions redressing the urgent and immediate problems of our people. This is a positive development.
The objective of our struggle is based on the concept of self-determination as articulated in the UN Charter and other instruments. We have always been consistent with our policy with regard to our struggle for self-determination. Tamil homeland, Tamil nationality and Tamils’ right to self-determination are the fundamentals underlying our political struggle. We have been insisting on these fundamentals from Thimpu to Thailand. Our position is that the Tamil national question should be resolved on the basis of these core principles. Tamils constitute themselves as a people, or rather as a national formation since they possess a distinct language, culture and history with a clearly defined homeland and a consciousness of their ethnic identity. As a distinct people they are entitled to the right to self-determination. The right to self-determination has two aspects: internal and external. The internal self-determination entitles a people to regional self-rule.
The Tamil people want to live in freedom and dignity in their own lands, in their historically constituted traditional lands without the domination of external forces. They want to protect their national identity pursing the development of their language, culture and economy. They want to live in their homeland under a system of self-rule. This is the political aspiration of our people. This constitutes the essential meaning of internal self-determination. We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination. But if our people’s right to self-determination is denied and our demand for regional self-rule is rejected we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent state.
Racism and racist oppression are the causative factors for rebellions and secessionist politics. The Sinhalese people should identify and reject the racist forces if they desire a permanent peace, ethnic harmony and economic prosperity. They should support, wholeheartedly, the efforts to find a political solution by peaceful means. The Sinhalese people should not oppose the Tamils’ aspirations to manage their own affairs under a system of self-rule in their own homeland. It is the politics of the Sinhala nation that will eventually determine whether the Sinhalese could peacefully co-exist with the Tamils or to compel the Tamils to secede.
We are pleased to note that the talks between the government and the LTTE are progressing forward under the conditions of mutual trust and goodwill. We are encouraged by the interest shown by the international community in the peace process and their willingness to offer assistance to rebuild the war damaged economy of the Tamil nation. It is our deepest desire that the current peace talks facilitated by Norway should succeed and all the communities living in the island should co-exist in harmony. If the Sinhala chauvinistic forces, for their own petty political reasons scuttle this peace effort which has raised high hopes and expectations and gained the support of the international community, the Tamil people will be compelled to pursue the path of secession and political independence
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