Chandrika Kumaratunga: Put conflict behind us

The President of Sri Lanka on Independence Day

We Sri Lankans, who lay claim to a noble heritage of more than 2,500 years, have failed to build on our strengths and evolve into a modern, independent and pluralistic nation. The failure to address this issue has metamorphosed existing conflicts into a violent armed conflict. We have been subjected to many foreign invasions and conquests, but the armed conflict we have faced for the past two decades is the most brutal and destructive this generation has experienced.

It is now time for us all to put the war behind us and look to a future where we would recognise and respect the rights and aspirations of every individual and of all our communities. If we are to achieve success this time, it is essential that the root causes of terrorism are addressed and solutions found. These solutions must have the acceptance of all our peoples and the rights of all Sri Lankans must be protected.

Despite the peace negotiations between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), there are disturbing reports of continuing recruitment of children by the LTTE and other human rights violations. I wish to make a special appeal to the LTTE: please do not recruit children for armed conflict. Children are the most precious treasure of any community.

The heritage and culture of a community can be carried forward only if children lead a normal childhood, in freedom. Every opportunity must be theirs for blossoming unhindered, with all their fundamental rights guaranteed and with adequate education. Then they will become responsible adults, capable of leading fruitful lives.

Fifty-five years ago, when we shed our colonial shackles and took over responsibility for our future as a nation, those who struggled gallantly for this freedom had visions of a peaceful country, with a prosperous economy and a happy and enlightened people. We must achieve that dream. Let us today rekindle that vision for Sri Lanka.