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War times: Cry for business to be agent for peace

Rising death toll, displaced persons force private sector and civil society to organise forum on Tuesday to take up role of business in peacebuilding

Despite President Mahinda Rajapakse denying a war scenario the mounting death toll and rise in displaced persons in the North and East are making the private sector very nervous. This dangerous status quo and whether the business community should play a role in peacebuilding will come up for discussion at a key forum on Tuesday.

The battle between Government forces and the LTTE for Jaffna went on to its ninth day yesterday with the combined death toll now nearing 1000. Clashes in the North as well as in the East have pushed the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to over 100,000 according to international humanitarian agencies.

Sensing the situation was getting out of control a private sector initiative the Business for Peace Alliance (BPA) and the Sri Lanka First in collaboration with the International Alert has convened a discussion on “Local Business, Local Peace – The Peacebuilding Potential of the Domestic Private Sector” Tuesday at 3.30 p.m. at JAIC Towers.

At the discussion the private sector and civil society leaders will get an overview of case studies from 20 countries on how local businesses have successfully responded to conflicts with inputs from International Alert Manager Peacebuilding Issues Program Nick Killick followed by a panel discussion on the role of business in peacebuilding in Sri Lanka. Peace Secretariat Secretary General Dr. Palitha Kohona will give his insights while the issue of business as an agent for peace will be dealt by professionals such as Immediate past Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Deva Rodrigo, University of Colombo’s Political Science Department’ Senior Lecturer Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, peace activist Sunila Abeysekera and Head of Point Pedro Institute for Development’s Muttukrishna Sarvananthan. The forum will also witness the ceremonial launch of a useful publication “Local business, local peace:The Peacebuilding potential of the domestic private sector.”

All leading Chambers of Commerce and Industries have openly expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation in the North and East as well as in Colombo. They have urged both parties to honour the ceasefire agreement and resume peace talks. Corporate leaders have also echoed similar sentiments.

For example premier blue chip John Keells Holdings Chairman Susantha Ratnayake said in his review in first quarter results: “It is imperative that the relevant stakeholders work towards a consensus to achieve a negotiated

political solution to the ethnic conflict. We cannot but emphasise the importance of peace for the long term growth and competitiveness of Sri Lanka.”

“We are very concerned about the situation at the moment. We sincerely hope that all parties will consider the welfare of the people who are again forced to face the devastating results of conflict and strive towards the maintenance of the ceasefire and a sustainable peace,” noted Aitken Spence Managing Director Rajan Britto.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week told newspaper editors and heads of electronic media that there was no war but the forces were only retaliating to defend their positions. The Government’s commitment to the ceasefire and peace talks was further reaffirmed last week during a telephone conversation between the President and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan.

However analysts were of the view that considering the extent and aggression of the clashes the reference to a ceasefire was ridiculous. “There appears to be an all out war in Jaffna. In a war situation the first victim is the truth and the death toll is enormous though what is reported is not the truth,” they added.

An unprecedented problem since the 2003 ceasefire agreement is the rising number of displaced persons from both the North and East. While Muslims in the East have moved to safer areas outer of the region, Tamils from the North are fleeing to Tamil Nadu.Use of air attacks and artillery have forced people as well as humanitarian relief workers to flee to safer areas or seek protection while land transport coming to a near standstill have caused fresh problems with regard to getting across urgent supplies and essential goods.

-Daily Mirror

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August 21, 2006 - Posted by | Media, Media Journalism, News, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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