Friday, September 30, 2016 INTERNATIONAL

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US accuses Russia of “war crimes” as danger of clash in Syria mounts
Jordan Shilton
 
US and allied diplomats went on the offensive against Russia at a UN Security Council meeting, provocatively accusing Moscow of “war crimes” in Syria and demonstrating their readiness to risk a direct military confrontation with the nuclear-armed power.
The emergency Security Council meeting was called by permanent members—-the United States, Britain and France—- with the explicit aim of making unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against Russia.
Referring to the attack on a UN aid convoy, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the meeting, “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism.”
She went on to charge that the Syrian government, which began an offensive to take rebel-held parts of Aleppo, was indiscriminately bombing residential areas with Russian support. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” claimed Power.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went even further, telling an interview on the BBC that Russia should be investigated for war crimes.
The handwringing of US and British politicians over alleged human rights abuses is thoroughly hypocritical. In truth, the collapse of the weeklong ceasefire early last week was triggered by the deliberate bombing of Syrian army positions by US aircraft—positions that were well known to coalition forces. The attack enabled Islamic State fighters to assume control of the area. In addition, US-backed “rebels” dominated by the hardline al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, systematically violated the terms of the ceasefire. The subsequent attack on the aid convoy could have been perpetrated by these forces, who have been accused of blocking civilians from fleeing.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that reaching a peace deal in Syria was “almost impossible” due to Washington’s continued support for al-Nusra. “They are armed with tanks, APCs, field artillery, multiple rocket launchers… dozens and dozens of units, including heavy weaponry… Of course, they couldn’t have made this equipment themselves. All of this has been received by them and is still being shipped to them by generous Western backers, with the US, presumably, turning a blind eye,” Churkin commented at the Security Council meeting. He went on to accuse al-Nusra of blocking humanitarian aid to Aleppo and launching indiscriminate attacks on government-held areas.
Clashes intensified throughout the country. Between 26 and 43 civilians were reported killed in bombing raids on eastern Aleppo, which is controlled by anti-Assad forces dominated by al-Nusra. Meanwhile, rebels shelled government-controlled Masyaf for a second day running.
It is becoming increasingly evident that Washington and its allies never saw the ceasefire as a means of bringing an end to the five-year conflict. Instead, they agreed to the deal in order to buy time to resupply their proxy forces, which were coming under mounting pressure from Assad’s troops, backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters, and to prepare a massive intensification of the war for regime-change in Damascus.
This was made clear, when a statement was released rejecting any talks to end to the war. The statement was signed by a large collection of rebel groups, many of which are backed by the US. It declared, “Negotiations under the present conditions are no longer useful and are meaningless.”
In a public demonstration that they would accept nothing short of full capitulation by the Assad government to their plans for regime-change, Power and the French and British UN ambassadors left the Security Council chamber as the Syrian ambassador spoke.
The transparent aim of the aggressive denunciation of Russia is to provide a fraudulent pretext for war. From the claim that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was preparing to massacre civilians in Benghazi in March 2011, to the lying allegations that Syrian government forces launched a poison gas attack in August 2013, and now the unsubstantiated allegations about Russian “war crimes” against the civilian population, Washington and its allies have repeatedly utilized such “human rights” propaganda to legitimize a vast escalation of military violence throughout the Middle East.
The corporate-controlled media has gone into overdrive in its efforts to demonize Russia and cast the US as a morally outraged bystander. Articles and television news reports routinely cite the aid convoy attack, which they attribute to Russia and the Syrian government without any hard evidence, as the cause of the ceasefire breakdown.
The New York Times published yet another propaganda piece entitled “From Paradise to Hell: How an Aid Convoy in Syria was Blown Apart.” The authors, Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta, all but categorically asserted that Russia was to blame. Based on conversations with anonymous sources, including some aligned with pro-US and anti-Assad rebels, the Times proclaimed, “Together, the interviews and other material indicate that there was a sustained, coordinated attack carried out by Russian or Syrian aircraft, probably both.”
Reports then appeared alleging that cluster munitions, white phosphorus, chemical weapons and barrel bombs were being deployed against Aleppo neighborhoods.
The US-incited war for regime-change in Syria has already claimed the lives of close to half a million people, forced more than half of the country’s population to leave their homes, and further destabilized the entire region.
The demonization of Russia is preparing the ground for a war that would quickly draw the major powers into a regional and global conflict. This was underscored by the remarks of General Joseph Dunford to Congress last week. Asked by Republican Senator Roger Wicker if the military could take decisive action to impose a no-fly zone, Dunford responded, “For now, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war with Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”
The military top brass in the Pentagon never supported the ceasefire deal and had no intention of abiding by it. As Dunford frankly admitted to the senators, “Russia is the most significant threat to our national interests.”
Despite the open acknowledgement that a no-fly zone would mean war, the incendiary policy is finding growing support, including from Secretary of State John Kerry. In August, the US backed a Turkish incursion into northern Syria to oust Kurdish rebels from the border region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to establish a so-called safe zone across a large area of the north of Syria. This would entail the permanent presence of troops from a NATO member state within Syria, creating yet another flashpoint with Russia.
Washington’s reckless drive to war in the Middle East is being met with growing intransigence from its opponents in Damascus and Moscow. Speaking at the UN General Assembly debate last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem labelled the US bombing of the Syrian army outpost, which killed over 60 soldiers and injured over 100 more, a deliberate act. Damascus “puts all the responsibility for aggression on the US,” he continued, before adding, “This vile aggression proves that the US and its allies are accomplices of Islamic State and other terror groups.”
Muallem also denounced Turkey’s incursion in strident tones, declaring that the US-backed operation was a flagrant breach of Syrian sovereignty.
In a lengthy interview on Russian television, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the Kremlin was increasingly unwilling to compromise in the face of Washington’s provocative actions. Lavrov charged that no progress had been made in separating the al-Nusra Front and other Jihadi forces from the so-called “moderate” opposition. Unless Washington took steps to do this, “our suspicions that this all is being done to take the heat off al-Nusra Front will strengthen,” he declared.
Reiterating even more explicit comments he made, the foreign minister continued, “If everything again boils down to asking Russia’s and Syria’s Air Forces to take unilateral steps—such as, ‘Give us another three- or four-day pause and after that we will persuade all opposition groups that this is serious and that they must cut ties with al-Nusra Front’—such talk will not be taken seriously by us anymore.”
— WSWS

Comment

Jordan Shilton
 
US and allied diplomats went on the offensive against Russia at a UN Security Council meeting, provocatively accusing Moscow of “war crimes” in Syria and demonstrating their readiness to risk a direct military confrontation with the nuclear-armed power.
The emergency Security Council meeting was called by permanent members—-the United States, Britain and France—- with the explicit aim of making unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against Russia.
Referring to the attack on a UN aid convoy, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the meeting, “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism.”
She went on to charge that the Syrian government, which began an offensive to take rebel-held parts of Aleppo, was indiscriminately bombing residential areas with Russian support. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” claimed Power.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went even further, telling an interview on the BBC that Russia should be investigated for war crimes.
The handwringing of US and British politicians over alleged human rights abuses is thoroughly hypocritical. In truth, the collapse of the weeklong ceasefire early last week was triggered by the deliberate bombing of Syrian army positions by US aircraft—positions that were well known to coalition forces. The attack enabled Islamic State fighters to assume control of the area. In addition, US-backed “rebels” dominated by the hardline al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, systematically violated the terms of the ceasefire. The subsequent attack on the aid convoy could have been perpetrated by these forces, who have been accused of blocking civilians from fleeing.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that reaching a peace deal in Syria was “almost impossible” due to Washington’s continued support for al-Nusra. “They are armed with tanks, APCs, field artillery, multiple rocket launchers… dozens and dozens of units, including heavy weaponry… Of course, they couldn’t have made this equipment themselves. All of this has been received by them and is still being shipped to them by generous Western backers, with the US, presumably, turning a blind eye,” Churkin commented at the Security Council meeting. He went on to accuse al-Nusra of blocking humanitarian aid to Aleppo and launching indiscriminate attacks on government-held areas.
Clashes intensified throughout the country. Between 26 and 43 civilians were reported killed in bombing raids on eastern Aleppo, which is controlled by anti-Assad forces dominated by al-Nusra. Meanwhile, rebels shelled government-controlled Masyaf for a second day running.
It is becoming increasingly evident that Washington and its allies never saw the ceasefire as a means of bringing an end to the five-year conflict. Instead, they agreed to the deal in order to buy time to resupply their proxy forces, which were coming under mounting pressure from Assad’s troops, backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters, and to prepare a massive intensification of the war for regime-change in Damascus.
This was made clear, when a statement was released rejecting any talks to end to the war. The statement was signed by a large collection of rebel groups, many of which are backed by the US. It declared, “Negotiations under the present conditions are no longer useful and are meaningless.”
In a public demonstration that they would accept nothing short of full capitulation by the Assad government to their plans for regime-change, Power and the French and British UN ambassadors left the Security Council chamber as the Syrian ambassador spoke.
The transparent aim of the aggressive denunciation of Russia is to provide a fraudulent pretext for war. From the claim that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was preparing to massacre civilians in Benghazi in March 2011, to the lying allegations that Syrian government forces launched a poison gas attack in August 2013, and now the unsubstantiated allegations about Russian “war crimes” against the civilian population, Washington and its allies have repeatedly utilized such “human rights” propaganda to legitimize a vast escalation of military violence throughout the Middle East.
The corporate-controlled media has gone into overdrive in its efforts to demonize Russia and cast the US as a morally outraged bystander. Articles and television news reports routinely cite the aid convoy attack, which they attribute to Russia and the Syrian government without any hard evidence, as the cause of the ceasefire breakdown.
The New York Times published yet another propaganda piece entitled “From Paradise to Hell: How an Aid Convoy in Syria was Blown Apart.” The authors, Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta, all but categorically asserted that Russia was to blame. Based on conversations with anonymous sources, including some aligned with pro-US and anti-Assad rebels, the Times proclaimed, “Together, the interviews and other material indicate that there was a sustained, coordinated attack carried out by Russian or Syrian aircraft, probably both.”
Reports then appeared alleging that cluster munitions, white phosphorus, chemical weapons and barrel bombs were being deployed against Aleppo neighborhoods.
The US-incited war for regime-change in Syria has already claimed the lives of close to half a million people, forced more than half of the country’s population to leave their homes, and further destabilized the entire region.
The demonization of Russia is preparing the ground for a war that would quickly draw the major powers into a regional and global conflict. This was underscored by the remarks of General Joseph Dunford to Congress last week. Asked by Republican Senator Roger Wicker if the military could take decisive action to impose a no-fly zone, Dunford responded, “For now, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war with Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”
The military top brass in the Pentagon never supported the ceasefire deal and had no intention of abiding by it. As Dunford frankly admitted to the senators, “Russia is the most significant threat to our national interests.”
Despite the open acknowledgement that a no-fly zone would mean war, the incendiary policy is finding growing support, including from Secretary of State John Kerry. In August, the US backed a Turkish incursion into northern Syria to oust Kurdish rebels from the border region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to establish a so-called safe zone across a large area of the north of Syria. This would entail the permanent presence of troops from a NATO member state within Syria, creating yet another flashpoint with Russia.
Washington’s reckless drive to war in the Middle East is being met with growing intransigence from its opponents in Damascus and Moscow. Speaking at the UN General Assembly debate last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem labelled the US bombing of the Syrian army outpost, which killed over 60 soldiers and injured over 100 more, a deliberate act. Damascus “puts all the responsibility for aggression on the US,” he continued, before adding, “This vile aggression proves that the US and its allies are accomplices of Islamic State and other terror groups.”
Muallem also denounced Turkey’s incursion in strident tones, declaring that the US-backed operation was a flagrant breach of Syrian sovereignty.
In a lengthy interview on Russian television, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the Kremlin was increasingly unwilling to compromise in the face of Washington’s provocative actions. Lavrov charged that no progress had been made in separating the al-Nusra Front and other Jihadi forces from the so-called “moderate” opposition. Unless Washington took steps to do this, “our suspicions that this all is being done to take the heat off al-Nusra Front will strengthen,” he declared.
Reiterating even more explicit comments he made, the foreign minister continued, “If everything again boils down to asking Russia’s and Syria’s Air Forces to take unilateral steps—such as, ‘Give us another three- or four-day pause and after that we will persuade all opposition groups that this is serious and that they must cut ties with al-Nusra Front’—such talk will not be taken seriously by us anymore.”
— WSWS

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Clinton-Trump debate: A degrading spectacle

Patrick Martin
 
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Presidential candidates
The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a political and cultural abomination. It demonstrated, in both style and substance, the thoroughgoing decay of American capitalist society over many decades.
It says a great deal about the US political system that, out of 330 million people in America, the choice for president has been narrowed down to these two individuals, both members of the financial aristocracy—they last met face-to-face when the Clintons attended Trump’s third wedding in 2005—and both deeply and deservedly hated by a large majority of the population.
There was not the slightest intellectual substance or reasoned political content to the so-called “debate.” No topic was addressed with either intelligence or honesty. Both candidates lied without effort or shame, slinging insults and prepared one-liners against each other while posturing as advocates of working people.
The capitalist two-party system in America has never put a premium on intelligence or truth. It has always been based on politicians who represent the interests of a narrow stratum at the top of society, while pretending to speak for all of the people. But by 2016, this pretense has lost all credibility.
Trump is the personification of business gangsterism, a billionaire who built his fortune on swindles, bankruptcies, the theft of wages and deals with the Mafia. When Clinton charged him with profiteering from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, which touched off the 2008 financial collapse, he retorted, “That’s business.” When she accused him of paying no taxes on his vast fortune, he boasted, “That makes me smart.”
Clinton is the personification of political gangsterism, deeply implicated in the crimes of American capitalism over a quarter century, from the destruction of social welfare programs, to the criminalization of minority youth, to the launching of imperialist wars that have killed millions. At one point in the debate she declared that her strategy for defeating ISIS was focused on the assassination of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She alluded to her role in “taking out” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and said she would make such killings “an organizing principle” of her foreign policy.
Clinton came into the debate as the favorite of the media and the American ruling elite, a tested servant of the financial aristocracy who can be relied on to serve as the political figurehead for the military-intelligence apparatus. She found her voice in the event as the representative of identity politics in the service of imperialism, making repeated appeals along racial and gender lines while threatening Russia with war and presenting the crisis in the Middle East as something that could be resolved by killing the right people.
Trump has attracted support by appearing to give voice to anger over the catastrophic decline in the social position of working people, citing plant closings, mass unemployment, rising poverty, the deterioration of roads, schools, airports, etc. But he offers no solution except the elimination of every restraint on the operations of big business: slashing taxes on corporations in half and scrapping business regulations.
The fascistic billionaire made perhaps the only truthful statement in the debate when he declared that American capitalism faced disaster after a “recovery” that was already the worst since the Great Depression. “We are in a big fat ugly bubble that’s going to come crashing down as soon the Fed raises interest rates,” he said. This recalls the remark by President George W. Bush during the financial meltdown of September 2008, when he blurted out, “This sucker’s going down.”
The media apologists of the Democrats and Republicans blabbed both before and after the debate about the need for fact-checking of the candidates. But the entire debate was a lie, from beginning to end. The falsehoods uttered by Trump and Clinton are picayune compared to the overarching lie that these candidates offer a genuine choice to the American people.
Whatever the outcome of the election, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton replaces Barack Obama in the White House, the next administration will be the most reactionary government in the history of the country, committed to a program of imperialist war, social austerity and attacks on democratic rights.
The task of the working class is to prepare itself politically for the struggles that will be generated by the drive to war and the deepening crisis of world capitalism.
—WSWS

Comment

Patrick Martin
 
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Presidential candidates
The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a political and cultural abomination. It demonstrated, in both style and substance, the thoroughgoing decay of American capitalist society over many decades.
It says a great deal about the US political system that, out of 330 million people in America, the choice for president has been narrowed down to these two individuals, both members of the financial aristocracy—they last met face-to-face when the Clintons attended Trump’s third wedding in 2005—and both deeply and deservedly hated by a large majority of the population.
There was not the slightest intellectual substance or reasoned political content to the so-called “debate.” No topic was addressed with either intelligence or honesty. Both candidates lied without effort or shame, slinging insults and prepared one-liners against each other while posturing as advocates of working people.
The capitalist two-party system in America has never put a premium on intelligence or truth. It has always been based on politicians who represent the interests of a narrow stratum at the top of society, while pretending to speak for all of the people. But by 2016, this pretense has lost all credibility.
Trump is the personification of business gangsterism, a billionaire who built his fortune on swindles, bankruptcies, the theft of wages and deals with the Mafia. When Clinton charged him with profiteering from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, which touched off the 2008 financial collapse, he retorted, “That’s business.” When she accused him of paying no taxes on his vast fortune, he boasted, “That makes me smart.”
Clinton is the personification of political gangsterism, deeply implicated in the crimes of American capitalism over a quarter century, from the destruction of social welfare programs, to the criminalization of minority youth, to the launching of imperialist wars that have killed millions. At one point in the debate she declared that her strategy for defeating ISIS was focused on the assassination of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She alluded to her role in “taking out” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and said she would make such killings “an organizing principle” of her foreign policy.
Clinton came into the debate as the favorite of the media and the American ruling elite, a tested servant of the financial aristocracy who can be relied on to serve as the political figurehead for the military-intelligence apparatus. She found her voice in the event as the representative of identity politics in the service of imperialism, making repeated appeals along racial and gender lines while threatening Russia with war and presenting the crisis in the Middle East as something that could be resolved by killing the right people.
Trump has attracted support by appearing to give voice to anger over the catastrophic decline in the social position of working people, citing plant closings, mass unemployment, rising poverty, the deterioration of roads, schools, airports, etc. But he offers no solution except the elimination of every restraint on the operations of big business: slashing taxes on corporations in half and scrapping business regulations.
The fascistic billionaire made perhaps the only truthful statement in the debate when he declared that American capitalism faced disaster after a “recovery” that was already the worst since the Great Depression. “We are in a big fat ugly bubble that’s going to come crashing down as soon the Fed raises interest rates,” he said. This recalls the remark by President George W. Bush during the financial meltdown of September 2008, when he blurted out, “This sucker’s going down.”
The media apologists of the Democrats and Republicans blabbed both before and after the debate about the need for fact-checking of the candidates. But the entire debate was a lie, from beginning to end. The falsehoods uttered by Trump and Clinton are picayune compared to the overarching lie that these candidates offer a genuine choice to the American people.
Whatever the outcome of the election, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton replaces Barack Obama in the White House, the next administration will be the most reactionary government in the history of the country, committed to a program of imperialist war, social austerity and attacks on democratic rights.
The task of the working class is to prepare itself politically for the struggles that will be generated by the drive to war and the deepening crisis of world capitalism.
—WSWS

Login to post comments


(0)



Sri Lanka: Need for inter-ethnic goodwill

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
Sri Lanka has entered into a period of conflict transformation. The theory of conflict transformation states that conflict changes the parties, their relationships and issues over time. There is a new relationship and the issues at hand can be addressed at a different level. This offers the chance to resolve the problem in a new way. The defeat of the LTTE on the battlefield and the Rajapaksa government in elections has created a big change in the environment. The way that the government handles inter-ethnic relations today is different from that of the past. The top leadership of the present government, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and also leading government figures such as Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, do not see the Tamil and Muslim people separately from the Sinhalese. Their approach is to see the people as one, rather than in terms of their ethnicity or region.
The downfall of the Rajapaksa government occurred because the former government saw national politics in ethnic terms. They considered the Tamil and Muslim people not only as distinct from the Sinhalese people to whose interests they gave priority, they also saw them as potential threats to national security. This is why the security forces were permitted to remain inactive even while Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslim properties, as in Aluthgama. This is also why the former government sought to increase the size of the Sri Lankan security forces after the end of the war, instead of demobilizing them as is common when a war ends. Instead of seeking to build a new future based on the peace that had been achieved, they began to prepare for another conflict in the future. The former government had a securitization mindset which impelled them to see national security as requiring a watchful eye and a military presence over the ethnic minorities.
The non-ethnic approach to governance that the present government leadership has shown is being reciprocated by the ethnic minority political parties. They are by and large fully supportive of the government and are placing their trust in its commitment to resolve long standing problems. Even those groups that continue to believe in the need for pressure to be put upon the government in the form of people’s power, such as the Tamil People’s Council in Jaffna, have made an effort to inform their supporters that they are neither being anti government nor anti Sinhalese. The large demonstrations that took place in Jaffna last week highlighted concerns about the non-return of land taken over by the military, the release of prisoners incarcerated for years without charge and the putting up of Buddhist symbols in places where there are no Buddhists. But there also needs to be a recognition of how much has changed for the better in the past one and a half years.
 
Peace building
The day before Tamil People’s Council held its rally there was a sports programme in Jaffna organized by Netball Australia in collaboration with the Foundation for Goodness in which cricket star Muttiah Muralitharan is a leading figure. Coaches and students from six schools each in Jaffna and Galle were the beneficiaries of this programme where their netball playing skills were enhanced and they were given a broader perspective about living together peacefully in one country. This programme involved coaching school children, along with their coaches, in the latest techniques in playing netball. The programme also had a peacebuilding component which was facilitated by the National Peace Council together with the Centre for Communication Training. Such people-to-people initiatives have been found to be useful in rebuilding broken relationships in post-war societies.
A demonstration of the goodwill that naturally exists between the different communities was manifested in an exercise that the students were asked to undertake by the facilitators from the Centre for Communication Training. The children from the north and south were put into mixed groups and were each asked to draw a picture which described what they are, wish to be and hope to become. They were also asked to explain their drawings to those in their group. Although most students could not speak in the language of the other community, they somehow struggled to explain what their drawings meant to each other, including using whatever English they knew as the link language.
One child drew a pen and wrote letters in the Sinhala, Tamil and English alphabets. She explained that she was the pen, and writing her own life, and it would be lived in the three languages. 
 
Public education
The government leadership is presently charting out a roadmap to reconciliation in Sri Lanka along with the political leadership of the Tamil and Muslim parties. There are two important processes taking place that are intended to lead to the development of a new constitution and the establishment of reconciliation mechanisms. Both are going to be public processes. The constitutional reforms will have to be approved by the people at a referendum. The reconciliation process will also be a public one as it includes the setting up of a truth seeking commission, the proceedings of which will be seen and heard by the entire country. Both of these processes will also go deep into the most controversial areas of public and political life, such as the devolution of power and the charges of serious human rights violations and war crimes connected to the war.
Last week, parallel to the netball programme in Jaffna, the National Peace Council held a workshop on transitional justice at Eastern University in Batticaloa. There were about a hundred students drawn from the Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities in approximately equal numbers. 
 There is an emerging vulnerability in the ongoing reconciliation process due to this lack of public awareness and public participation in the reforms that are being initiated at the highest levels of the polity. The first is that nationalist propaganda can fill in the vacuum. Among them are charges made by the Tamil People’s Council is that there is Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil lands and the building of Buddhist temples in these areas. Charges that give emotives or misleading interpretations about the reforms that are taking place are made in the South as well. The possible resurrection of the LTTE due to the actions of the government and the division of the country by the international community are some of the favourite propaganda lines. Unless countered effectively this can lead to a loss of trust and confidence and back to a negative cycle of renewed conflict. The best way forward would be to engage in greater awareness education and to find ways to make community leaders participate directly in the reconciliation process by means of people-to-people engagements.

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
Sri Lanka has entered into a period of conflict transformation. The theory of conflict transformation states that conflict changes the parties, their relationships and issues over time. There is a new relationship and the issues at hand can be addressed at a different level. This offers the chance to resolve the problem in a new way. The defeat of the LTTE on the battlefield and the Rajapaksa government in elections has created a big change in the environment. The way that the government handles inter-ethnic relations today is different from that of the past. The top leadership of the present government, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and also leading government figures such as Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, do not see the Tamil and Muslim people separately from the Sinhalese. Their approach is to see the people as one, rather than in terms of their ethnicity or region.
The downfall of the Rajapaksa government occurred because the former government saw national politics in ethnic terms. They considered the Tamil and Muslim people not only as distinct from the Sinhalese people to whose interests they gave priority, they also saw them as potential threats to national security. This is why the security forces were permitted to remain inactive even while Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslim properties, as in Aluthgama. This is also why the former government sought to increase the size of the Sri Lankan security forces after the end of the war, instead of demobilizing them as is common when a war ends. Instead of seeking to build a new future based on the peace that had been achieved, they began to prepare for another conflict in the future. The former government had a securitization mindset which impelled them to see national security as requiring a watchful eye and a military presence over the ethnic minorities.
The non-ethnic approach to governance that the present government leadership has shown is being reciprocated by the ethnic minority political parties. They are by and large fully supportive of the government and are placing their trust in its commitment to resolve long standing problems. Even those groups that continue to believe in the need for pressure to be put upon the government in the form of people’s power, such as the Tamil People’s Council in Jaffna, have made an effort to inform their supporters that they are neither being anti government nor anti Sinhalese. The large demonstrations that took place in Jaffna last week highlighted concerns about the non-return of land taken over by the military, the release of prisoners incarcerated for years without charge and the putting up of Buddhist symbols in places where there are no Buddhists. But there also needs to be a recognition of how much has changed for the better in the past one and a half years.
 
Peace building
The day before Tamil People’s Council held its rally there was a sports programme in Jaffna organized by Netball Australia in collaboration with the Foundation for Goodness in which cricket star Muttiah Muralitharan is a leading figure. Coaches and students from six schools each in Jaffna and Galle were the beneficiaries of this programme where their netball playing skills were enhanced and they were given a broader perspective about living together peacefully in one country. This programme involved coaching school children, along with their coaches, in the latest techniques in playing netball. The programme also had a peacebuilding component which was facilitated by the National Peace Council together with the Centre for Communication Training. Such people-to-people initiatives have been found to be useful in rebuilding broken relationships in post-war societies.
A demonstration of the goodwill that naturally exists between the different communities was manifested in an exercise that the students were asked to undertake by the facilitators from the Centre for Communication Training. The children from the north and south were put into mixed groups and were each asked to draw a picture which described what they are, wish to be and hope to become. They were also asked to explain their drawings to those in their group. Although most students could not speak in the language of the other community, they somehow struggled to explain what their drawings meant to each other, including using whatever English they knew as the link language.
One child drew a pen and wrote letters in the Sinhala, Tamil and English alphabets. She explained that she was the pen, and writing her own life, and it would be lived in the three languages. 
 
Public education
The government leadership is presently charting out a roadmap to reconciliation in Sri Lanka along with the political leadership of the Tamil and Muslim parties. There are two important processes taking place that are intended to lead to the development of a new constitution and the establishment of reconciliation mechanisms. Both are going to be public processes. The constitutional reforms will have to be approved by the people at a referendum. The reconciliation process will also be a public one as it includes the setting up of a truth seeking commission, the proceedings of which will be seen and heard by the entire country. Both of these processes will also go deep into the most controversial areas of public and political life, such as the devolution of power and the charges of serious human rights violations and war crimes connected to the war.
Last week, parallel to the netball programme in Jaffna, the National Peace Council held a workshop on transitional justice at Eastern University in Batticaloa. There were about a hundred students drawn from the Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities in approximately equal numbers. 
 There is an emerging vulnerability in the ongoing reconciliation process due to this lack of public awareness and public participation in the reforms that are being initiated at the highest levels of the polity. The first is that nationalist propaganda can fill in the vacuum. Among them are charges made by the Tamil People’s Council is that there is Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil lands and the building of Buddhist temples in these areas. Charges that give emotives or misleading interpretations about the reforms that are taking place are made in the South as well. The possible resurrection of the LTTE due to the actions of the government and the division of the country by the international community are some of the favourite propaganda lines. Unless countered effectively this can lead to a loss of trust and confidence and back to a negative cycle of renewed conflict. The best way forward would be to engage in greater awareness education and to find ways to make community leaders participate directly in the reconciliation process by means of people-to-people engagements.

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