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Russian-Iranian actions in Syria intensify growing disquiet in US

Bill Van Auken
 
Russian air strikes hit 55 IS targets in Syria
Russian bombers used an air base in the northwest of Iran for a second day on 17 August to attack targets inside Syria described by Moscow as arms depots and command centres used to support Jihadist militias fighting Syrian government forces for control of the city of Aleppo.
The air strikes, carried out by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and SU-34 tactical bombers, mark the first time that Russia has used a base inside a third country to prosecute the bombing campaign that it began in September 2015 against Al Qaeda-linked militias and in support of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The long-range planes are too large to use the base that Russia occupies inside Syria. They had previously flown out of southern Russia. The use of Iranian bases cuts flight time by 60 per cent and allows the aircraft to carry large amounts of bombs.
 
Islamists armed and funded by CIA, Pentagon, regional allies of US
The move provoked expressions of disquiet within the Washington ruling establishment. It has grown increasingly concerned about the evident debacle confronting the five-year-old US-backed war for regime change in Syria, which has relied upon Islamist sectarian militias armed and funded by the CIA, the Pentagon and US imperialism’s regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
In addition to the State Department’s official denunciation of the use of the Iranian base, there has been a rising tide of editorials and news articles indicting the Obama administration for failure to take more aggressive action in Syria, invoking the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo as the pretext for a stepped-up US intervention.
Responding to the reports of the Russian air strikes conducted from Iran, State Department spokesman Mark Toner criticized Moscow for a second day declaring that the action was “not helpful because it continues to complicate what is already a very dangerous situation in and around Aleppo.”
The “complication” which concerns Washington is the stalling of a “rebel” offensive meant to break the government’s siege of eastern Aleppo, where a minority of the population has lived under the rule of the Jihadi militias. The Al Qaeda-linked forces had boasted that they were on the verge of conquering the entire city through the offensive, which was prepared by the funneling in of massive amounts of arms, including heavy weapons, by the US and its regional allies. 
However, Syrian government forces, aided by fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and backed by Russian air strikes, have apparently reversed the initial gains of the Western-backed Islamists.
This reversal has triggered the propaganda offensive over the catastrophe in Aleppo, which for the most part completely ignores indiscriminate shelling and gas attacks by the “rebels” against the vast majority of Aleppo’s population living under government control in the west of the city. Washington is pressing for an immediate ceasefire and opening up of “humanitarian corridors” so that it can resupply its proxy forces.
The State Department has also over the past days suggested that the Russian-Iranian action is somehow in violation of a UN Security Council resolution adopted a little over a year ago as part of the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. It included language barring the sale or transfer of any weapons systems that could used to deliver nuclear weapons. This allegation is utterly spurious, given that Russia has not placed its warplanes under Teheran’s control, but is only using the country’s bases.
On both days, the State Department repeated charges that the Russian air strikes had hit “moderate opposition targets,” while failing to provide any details as to the identity of these so-called moderates. The reality is that the dominant force on the ground is the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate that last month changed its name and formally disaffiliated from Al Qaeda, along with similar Salafist jihadi militias. While the US pledged that it would secure the separation of the “moderates” from the Al Qaeda affiliates, it is unable to do so because those armed and funded by the CIA are thoroughly integrated with these forces.
 
Impediment to 25-year-old US drive
The real concern in Washington is the emergence of an alliance that could potentially act as an impediment to the 25-year-old US drive to militarily assert its unquestioned hegemony over the Middle East. The Russian-Iranian agreement marks the first time that a foreign military has been allowed to operate out of Iranian bases since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah’s US-backed dictatorship.
The basing agreement was preceded by Moscow’s provision to Teheran of its advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile defence system, which had previously been held back during the tightening of UN sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme. Components of the missile system have already been delivered, according to Iranian officials.
 
Disagreeable for Washington
The situation is even more disagreeable for Washington as the Russian planes are flying from Iran over Iraqi territory with the permission of the US-backed government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Russian media have also reported that the Abadi government has given Moscow permission to fire cruise missiles from the Caspian and Mediterranean over Iraqi territory.
Further complicating the situation from Washington’s perspective, the Chinese government announced on 16 August that it is seeking closer military collaboration with the Assad government in Syria. Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, visited Damascus, meeting with top Syrian officials and promising increased military aid as well as training for Syrian government forces. Guan also met with a senior Russian general while in Syria. Chinese officials have cited the participation of Islamists from the Uighur population in China’s Xinjiang region in both ISIS and the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate as one of their reasons for seeking increased involvement in Syria.
Perhaps even more concerning is the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey in the wake of recent abortive coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, which by all indications enjoyed the support of Washington and its European allies. In his first trip abroad in the wake of the July 15 military uprising, Erdo?an visited Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city, last week for talks with Putin. In the aftermath of the talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu said that a proposal was “on the table” for Turkey and Russia to carry out joint operations against ISIS.
This was followed on 16 August by a statement from a member of the Russian Federation Council Defence and Security Committee, Senator Viktor Ozerov, that “Turkey could provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria].” Incirlik currently serves as the base for thousands of US Air Force personnel and private contractors. Its status became a sensitive issue after it served as a base of operations for the abortive coup, which also called into question the safety of at least 50 US nuclear weapons stored there.
The unraveling of US policy in Syria was the subject of a paper issued on 16 August by the Center for Strategic and International Studies by its strategic analyst and longtime Pentagon adviser Anthony Cordesman.
Stating that the situation “seriously threatens the future of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region and US strategic interests,” Cordesman noted the lack of any serious public discussion over US war policy: “For the first time in its national history, the United States may get through a Presidential campaign amidst multiple wars without seriously debating or discussing where any of its wars are going, or what their longer-term impact will be.”
 
A strategic nightmare
The developments in Syria, he added, represent “not simply a massive and lasting humanitarian nightmare, it is a strategic nightmare as well.” He pointed in particular to the growing Russian and Iranian role in the conflict and the likely survival of the Assad government.
“So far, the United States seems to have done little to address these issues,” Cordesman writes. “Secretary Kerry’s negotiations with Russia seem to have done little more than give Russia freedom of action in backing Assad while the United States focuses on ISIS—choices that also empower Iran and raise critical questions about who will really win in Syria if the United States does defeat ISIS.”
 
Convoy of between 100 and 200 trucks
One indication that this same question is being asked in the US military command came with the report that after conquering the city of Manbij in northern Syria, US-backed forces, which are fighting with the support of American special operations troops, granted safe passage to a convoy of between 100 and 200 trucks and cars filled with ISIS members fleeing toward the Turkish border. The effect was to ensure that these forces lived to fight another day, presumably the Americans hope, against Assad.
While the Obama administration has sought to limit US engagement in Syria, preferring to concentrate its military efforts on the encirclement of and preparation for war against Russia, Washington is not prepared to accept the restabilization of the Assad government or the consolidation of any regime aligned with Russia in Damascus. The rising tensions over the coordinated actions of Russia, Iran, China and potentially Turkey pose the threat of a military confrontation with globally catastrophic implications.
—-WSWS

Comment

Bill Van Auken
 
Russian air strikes hit 55 IS targets in Syria
Russian bombers used an air base in the northwest of Iran for a second day on 17 August to attack targets inside Syria described by Moscow as arms depots and command centres used to support Jihadist militias fighting Syrian government forces for control of the city of Aleppo.
The air strikes, carried out by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and SU-34 tactical bombers, mark the first time that Russia has used a base inside a third country to prosecute the bombing campaign that it began in September 2015 against Al Qaeda-linked militias and in support of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The long-range planes are too large to use the base that Russia occupies inside Syria. They had previously flown out of southern Russia. The use of Iranian bases cuts flight time by 60 per cent and allows the aircraft to carry large amounts of bombs.
 
Islamists armed and funded by CIA, Pentagon, regional allies of US
The move provoked expressions of disquiet within the Washington ruling establishment. It has grown increasingly concerned about the evident debacle confronting the five-year-old US-backed war for regime change in Syria, which has relied upon Islamist sectarian militias armed and funded by the CIA, the Pentagon and US imperialism’s regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
In addition to the State Department’s official denunciation of the use of the Iranian base, there has been a rising tide of editorials and news articles indicting the Obama administration for failure to take more aggressive action in Syria, invoking the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo as the pretext for a stepped-up US intervention.
Responding to the reports of the Russian air strikes conducted from Iran, State Department spokesman Mark Toner criticized Moscow for a second day declaring that the action was “not helpful because it continues to complicate what is already a very dangerous situation in and around Aleppo.”
The “complication” which concerns Washington is the stalling of a “rebel” offensive meant to break the government’s siege of eastern Aleppo, where a minority of the population has lived under the rule of the Jihadi militias. The Al Qaeda-linked forces had boasted that they were on the verge of conquering the entire city through the offensive, which was prepared by the funneling in of massive amounts of arms, including heavy weapons, by the US and its regional allies. 
However, Syrian government forces, aided by fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and backed by Russian air strikes, have apparently reversed the initial gains of the Western-backed Islamists.
This reversal has triggered the propaganda offensive over the catastrophe in Aleppo, which for the most part completely ignores indiscriminate shelling and gas attacks by the “rebels” against the vast majority of Aleppo’s population living under government control in the west of the city. Washington is pressing for an immediate ceasefire and opening up of “humanitarian corridors” so that it can resupply its proxy forces.
The State Department has also over the past days suggested that the Russian-Iranian action is somehow in violation of a UN Security Council resolution adopted a little over a year ago as part of the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. It included language barring the sale or transfer of any weapons systems that could used to deliver nuclear weapons. This allegation is utterly spurious, given that Russia has not placed its warplanes under Teheran’s control, but is only using the country’s bases.
On both days, the State Department repeated charges that the Russian air strikes had hit “moderate opposition targets,” while failing to provide any details as to the identity of these so-called moderates. The reality is that the dominant force on the ground is the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate that last month changed its name and formally disaffiliated from Al Qaeda, along with similar Salafist jihadi militias. While the US pledged that it would secure the separation of the “moderates” from the Al Qaeda affiliates, it is unable to do so because those armed and funded by the CIA are thoroughly integrated with these forces.
 
Impediment to 25-year-old US drive
The real concern in Washington is the emergence of an alliance that could potentially act as an impediment to the 25-year-old US drive to militarily assert its unquestioned hegemony over the Middle East. The Russian-Iranian agreement marks the first time that a foreign military has been allowed to operate out of Iranian bases since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah’s US-backed dictatorship.
The basing agreement was preceded by Moscow’s provision to Teheran of its advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile defence system, which had previously been held back during the tightening of UN sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme. Components of the missile system have already been delivered, according to Iranian officials.
 
Disagreeable for Washington
The situation is even more disagreeable for Washington as the Russian planes are flying from Iran over Iraqi territory with the permission of the US-backed government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Russian media have also reported that the Abadi government has given Moscow permission to fire cruise missiles from the Caspian and Mediterranean over Iraqi territory.
Further complicating the situation from Washington’s perspective, the Chinese government announced on 16 August that it is seeking closer military collaboration with the Assad government in Syria. Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, visited Damascus, meeting with top Syrian officials and promising increased military aid as well as training for Syrian government forces. Guan also met with a senior Russian general while in Syria. Chinese officials have cited the participation of Islamists from the Uighur population in China’s Xinjiang region in both ISIS and the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate as one of their reasons for seeking increased involvement in Syria.
Perhaps even more concerning is the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey in the wake of recent abortive coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, which by all indications enjoyed the support of Washington and its European allies. In his first trip abroad in the wake of the July 15 military uprising, Erdo?an visited Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city, last week for talks with Putin. In the aftermath of the talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu said that a proposal was “on the table” for Turkey and Russia to carry out joint operations against ISIS.
This was followed on 16 August by a statement from a member of the Russian Federation Council Defence and Security Committee, Senator Viktor Ozerov, that “Turkey could provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria].” Incirlik currently serves as the base for thousands of US Air Force personnel and private contractors. Its status became a sensitive issue after it served as a base of operations for the abortive coup, which also called into question the safety of at least 50 US nuclear weapons stored there.
The unraveling of US policy in Syria was the subject of a paper issued on 16 August by the Center for Strategic and International Studies by its strategic analyst and longtime Pentagon adviser Anthony Cordesman.
Stating that the situation “seriously threatens the future of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region and US strategic interests,” Cordesman noted the lack of any serious public discussion over US war policy: “For the first time in its national history, the United States may get through a Presidential campaign amidst multiple wars without seriously debating or discussing where any of its wars are going, or what their longer-term impact will be.”
 
A strategic nightmare
The developments in Syria, he added, represent “not simply a massive and lasting humanitarian nightmare, it is a strategic nightmare as well.” He pointed in particular to the growing Russian and Iranian role in the conflict and the likely survival of the Assad government.
“So far, the United States seems to have done little to address these issues,” Cordesman writes. “Secretary Kerry’s negotiations with Russia seem to have done little more than give Russia freedom of action in backing Assad while the United States focuses on ISIS—choices that also empower Iran and raise critical questions about who will really win in Syria if the United States does defeat ISIS.”
 
Convoy of between 100 and 200 trucks
One indication that this same question is being asked in the US military command came with the report that after conquering the city of Manbij in northern Syria, US-backed forces, which are fighting with the support of American special operations troops, granted safe passage to a convoy of between 100 and 200 trucks and cars filled with ISIS members fleeing toward the Turkish border. The effect was to ensure that these forces lived to fight another day, presumably the Americans hope, against Assad.
While the Obama administration has sought to limit US engagement in Syria, preferring to concentrate its military efforts on the encirclement of and preparation for war against Russia, Washington is not prepared to accept the restabilization of the Assad government or the consolidation of any regime aligned with Russia in Damascus. The rising tensions over the coordinated actions of Russia, Iran, China and potentially Turkey pose the threat of a military confrontation with globally catastrophic implications.
—-WSWS

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Sri Lanka: Govt decisions need to be backed by education on the ground

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
The visit to Sri Lanka of Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Sri Lanka was significant as it confirmed that the long and positive relationship that Norway has had with Sri Lanka is back on track.  The two visits earlier this year of Foreign Minister BÃrge Brende and Foreign Secretary Tore Hattrem (who had been Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka during the last phase of the war) signaled the change.  Relations between the two countries got strained after the Norwegian facilitated ceasefire agreement broke down.  Sinhalese nationalists with the tacit backing of the government in power at that time accused Norway of being partial to the LTTE and acting in ways that were detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.  Visitors from Norway at that time felt it was pragmatic to say they were from Europe.  However, the warm welcomes afforded to the high level Norwegian visitors this year showed how much has changed since the new government took office.
Norway has been a longstanding development partner of Sri Lanka and been providing it with economic assistance since the 1960s.  Norwegian assistance came in the early years in the form of technical support for fisheries in addition to integrated rural development.  Support to economic development was directed at supporting the improvement of the living conditions in the least developed parts of the country. In fact it was the contacts made by Norwegian development specialists in those early years that paved the way for Norwegian facilitation of the peace process that commenced during the period of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.  Norwegian development workers such as Jon Westborg, who served with the Red Cross in both the north and south of the country, became involved in the peace process.  Jon Westborg was the Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka during the signing of the ceasefire agreement.
One of the highlights of Prime Minister Solberg’s stay in Sri Lanka was the speech she delivered in Colombo under the aegis of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.  She chose the theme of achieving Sustainable Development Goals by working for the common good.  She is presently the co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advocacy Group.  In the course of her speech Prime Minister Solberg acknowledged Sri Lanka’s welfare policies which attracted international attention especially in the decades of the 1960s and 70s and influenced policy making in other countries.  These are achievements that the country has continued to sustain half a century later.  Sri Lanka remains in the top half of the world’s countries in terms of social and physical quality of life indicators and is now regarded as a middle income country and able to handle developmental issues with its own resources.
 
Government priorities
In this context Prime Minister Solberg’s reference to Norway’s present priorities in regard to bilateral development cooperation with Sri Lanka is significant.  She identified key sustainable development goals as being climate change, conservation of the ocean, peace and justice, gender equality and affordable and clean energy.  These are areas that require societies to put the interests of all, or the common good, into the forefront, and not selfish interests that put one’s own country, gender or ethnicity to the fore.  The Norwegian prime minister pointed out that Norway was a strong supporter of multilateral initiatives such as UNICEF and UNESCO, whose head Irina Bokova visited Sri Lanka shortly thereafter.  She also pointed out the importance of civil society in the education process and to build accountability and engagement at the community level. At the present time the Sri Lankan government’s priority in terms of the key sustainable development goals identified by the Norwegian prime minister is achieving sustainable peace and justice through a two pronged process in which accounting for the past and constitutional reforms are the main components.  The government is developing new mechanisms, laws and constitutional proposals in consultation with civil society as recommended by international best practices.  These consultations have been with those in civil society who are knowledgeable about the areas that require reform and who are sympathetic to it.  The Public Representations Committee on constitutional reforms headed by All Wijeynayake has already completed its process of consultations and finalized its report which has been handed over to the Constitutional Council.    The consultations with regard to the reconciliation mechanisms by the Consultation Task Force headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama are still in the process of being finalized.  
Initial reports from the Zonal Task Forces which are meeting directly with civil society indicate a positive response to the government’s proposed reconciliation mechanisms, comprising of an Office of Missing Persons, Truth Commission, Special Court on accountability issues and an Office of Reparations.  Even the politically controversial issues, such as the role of foreign judges in the accountability process, have been viewed in a positive light by those in civil society whose views have been obtained.  The government has been under considerable pressure from both the Tamil polity and the international community with regard to international participation in the accountability process.  
 
Continuing education
The passage of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) bill through Parliament shows that the government is determined to meet its commitments by the Tamil polity that fully supported it at the last elections and the international community to whom it made commitments by co-signing the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva.  The OMP legislation has won support from the international community led by the United States.  The government was able to successfully overcome political opposition to the OMP and pass the bill in Parliament despite protests by the nationalists in and outside Parliament.  It is likely that the other three mechanisms that the government has pledged to set up, the Truth Commission, the Special Court and the Office of Reparations will be of similar quality.
Through its process of consultations with civil society and the passage of legislation in Parliament the government is putting the superstructure of sustainable peace into place.  However, Norwegian Prime Minister Solberg’s words with regard to the role of public education in achieving sustainable development need to be heeded.  She said that €œIt is important to build accountability and engagement at the community level and local NGOs have a key role to play involving parents and local communities.  The downward trend in education over the past years must be reversed.?  Despite the changes in thinking and attitudes that are visible today in Sri Lanka at the level of the government leadership and much of the polity with regard to the reconciliation process this message needs to be taken in a cohesive and systematic manner to the people at the community level also.
Last week the Justice and Peace Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of the Catholic Church organized three-day leadership training for school children from Catholic schools of the north and south.  There were Tamil children from Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Pudukuduirrippu and Mullaitivu who mixed with Sinhalese children from Kandy, Negombo, Ratnapura, Kalutara and Colombo.  They got on well with each other in the sports and social activities.  But when they were given the opportunity to ask each other questions about the ethnic conflict and the post war situation, sharp differences in their thinking manifested itself.    The Sinhalese children wanted to know whether the Tamil children appreciated that Sinhalese soldiers had liberated them from the LTTE and from war.  The Tamil children asked how those who fought against injustice could be called terrorists.    Although the children shared a common religion and had been exposed to each other in a friendly environment, their inner thoughts remained at odds with their outer behaviors.  
If peace in Sri Lanka is to be sustainable there is a need for public education on the ethnic conflict, even after the reconciliation mechanisms are in place. Sri Lanka has an unfortunate history of missing opportunities. What governments have tried to do to resolve the conflict in the past, those in opposition have effectively undone by arousing primeval fears and mobilizing mass opposition.  This time around the existence of a national unity government mitigates this risk, but it is still necessary to ensure that the people understand and accept the changes to ensure sustainability. 

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
The visit to Sri Lanka of Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Sri Lanka was significant as it confirmed that the long and positive relationship that Norway has had with Sri Lanka is back on track.  The two visits earlier this year of Foreign Minister BÃrge Brende and Foreign Secretary Tore Hattrem (who had been Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka during the last phase of the war) signaled the change.  Relations between the two countries got strained after the Norwegian facilitated ceasefire agreement broke down.  Sinhalese nationalists with the tacit backing of the government in power at that time accused Norway of being partial to the LTTE and acting in ways that were detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.  Visitors from Norway at that time felt it was pragmatic to say they were from Europe.  However, the warm welcomes afforded to the high level Norwegian visitors this year showed how much has changed since the new government took office.
Norway has been a longstanding development partner of Sri Lanka and been providing it with economic assistance since the 1960s.  Norwegian assistance came in the early years in the form of technical support for fisheries in addition to integrated rural development.  Support to economic development was directed at supporting the improvement of the living conditions in the least developed parts of the country. In fact it was the contacts made by Norwegian development specialists in those early years that paved the way for Norwegian facilitation of the peace process that commenced during the period of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.  Norwegian development workers such as Jon Westborg, who served with the Red Cross in both the north and south of the country, became involved in the peace process.  Jon Westborg was the Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka during the signing of the ceasefire agreement.
One of the highlights of Prime Minister Solberg’s stay in Sri Lanka was the speech she delivered in Colombo under the aegis of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.  She chose the theme of achieving Sustainable Development Goals by working for the common good.  She is presently the co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advocacy Group.  In the course of her speech Prime Minister Solberg acknowledged Sri Lanka’s welfare policies which attracted international attention especially in the decades of the 1960s and 70s and influenced policy making in other countries.  These are achievements that the country has continued to sustain half a century later.  Sri Lanka remains in the top half of the world’s countries in terms of social and physical quality of life indicators and is now regarded as a middle income country and able to handle developmental issues with its own resources.
 
Government priorities
In this context Prime Minister Solberg’s reference to Norway’s present priorities in regard to bilateral development cooperation with Sri Lanka is significant.  She identified key sustainable development goals as being climate change, conservation of the ocean, peace and justice, gender equality and affordable and clean energy.  These are areas that require societies to put the interests of all, or the common good, into the forefront, and not selfish interests that put one’s own country, gender or ethnicity to the fore.  The Norwegian prime minister pointed out that Norway was a strong supporter of multilateral initiatives such as UNICEF and UNESCO, whose head Irina Bokova visited Sri Lanka shortly thereafter.  She also pointed out the importance of civil society in the education process and to build accountability and engagement at the community level. At the present time the Sri Lankan government’s priority in terms of the key sustainable development goals identified by the Norwegian prime minister is achieving sustainable peace and justice through a two pronged process in which accounting for the past and constitutional reforms are the main components.  The government is developing new mechanisms, laws and constitutional proposals in consultation with civil society as recommended by international best practices.  These consultations have been with those in civil society who are knowledgeable about the areas that require reform and who are sympathetic to it.  The Public Representations Committee on constitutional reforms headed by All Wijeynayake has already completed its process of consultations and finalized its report which has been handed over to the Constitutional Council.    The consultations with regard to the reconciliation mechanisms by the Consultation Task Force headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama are still in the process of being finalized.  
Initial reports from the Zonal Task Forces which are meeting directly with civil society indicate a positive response to the government’s proposed reconciliation mechanisms, comprising of an Office of Missing Persons, Truth Commission, Special Court on accountability issues and an Office of Reparations.  Even the politically controversial issues, such as the role of foreign judges in the accountability process, have been viewed in a positive light by those in civil society whose views have been obtained.  The government has been under considerable pressure from both the Tamil polity and the international community with regard to international participation in the accountability process.  
 
Continuing education
The passage of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) bill through Parliament shows that the government is determined to meet its commitments by the Tamil polity that fully supported it at the last elections and the international community to whom it made commitments by co-signing the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva.  The OMP legislation has won support from the international community led by the United States.  The government was able to successfully overcome political opposition to the OMP and pass the bill in Parliament despite protests by the nationalists in and outside Parliament.  It is likely that the other three mechanisms that the government has pledged to set up, the Truth Commission, the Special Court and the Office of Reparations will be of similar quality.
Through its process of consultations with civil society and the passage of legislation in Parliament the government is putting the superstructure of sustainable peace into place.  However, Norwegian Prime Minister Solberg’s words with regard to the role of public education in achieving sustainable development need to be heeded.  She said that €œIt is important to build accountability and engagement at the community level and local NGOs have a key role to play involving parents and local communities.  The downward trend in education over the past years must be reversed.?  Despite the changes in thinking and attitudes that are visible today in Sri Lanka at the level of the government leadership and much of the polity with regard to the reconciliation process this message needs to be taken in a cohesive and systematic manner to the people at the community level also.
Last week the Justice and Peace Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of the Catholic Church organized three-day leadership training for school children from Catholic schools of the north and south.  There were Tamil children from Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Pudukuduirrippu and Mullaitivu who mixed with Sinhalese children from Kandy, Negombo, Ratnapura, Kalutara and Colombo.  They got on well with each other in the sports and social activities.  But when they were given the opportunity to ask each other questions about the ethnic conflict and the post war situation, sharp differences in their thinking manifested itself.    The Sinhalese children wanted to know whether the Tamil children appreciated that Sinhalese soldiers had liberated them from the LTTE and from war.  The Tamil children asked how those who fought against injustice could be called terrorists.    Although the children shared a common religion and had been exposed to each other in a friendly environment, their inner thoughts remained at odds with their outer behaviors.  
If peace in Sri Lanka is to be sustainable there is a need for public education on the ethnic conflict, even after the reconciliation mechanisms are in place. Sri Lanka has an unfortunate history of missing opportunities. What governments have tried to do to resolve the conflict in the past, those in opposition have effectively undone by arousing primeval fears and mobilizing mass opposition.  This time around the existence of a national unity government mitigates this risk, but it is still necessary to ensure that the people understand and accept the changes to ensure sustainability. 

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