OSLO CONFERENCE ON SOUTH ASIAN CONFLICTS UNDERLINES SPIRITUALITY AS THE WAY FORWARD
Oslo, April 11: Bringing together top leaders, senior diplomats and experts from diverse backgrounds, a historic Conference on Peace and Reconciliation in South Asia concluded in the ‘peace capital’ of the world today, calling for peaceful resolution of the unsettled issues and highlighting spirituality as a way forward.
The conference, which focused on the internal armed conflicts in the South Asian nations of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and the South-East Asian nation of Burma, was organised by the International Association for Human Values of Indian spiritual and humanitarian leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The conference aimed to find new ways to resolve the conflicts, and highlight the need to promote dialogue and evolve a consensus among the stakeholders to deal with the problems, which have claimed countless lives in the last few decades.
The Sri Lankan perspective was presented by Mr. Arumugam Thondaman, Minister for Youth Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General of the Sri Lankan Government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, MP, and prominent Buddhist Monks, Dr. Brahmanawatte Seevali Nayaka Thero and Dr. Maduluvave Sobitha Nayaka Thero.
Mr. Ramvichar Netam, Home Minister of the Naxal insurgency-affected state of Chhattisgarh, and MDMK chief Mr. Vaiko, represented India, while Mr. Harn Yawnghwe, Director of the Euro-Burma Office, and Mr. Khin Maung Win, Executive Deputy Director of the Democratic Voice of Burma, represented the Burmese perspective.
Norway's Special Envoy for the Peace Process in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Members of European Parliament, Ms. Erika Mann and Mr. Nirj Deva, Secretary General of the International Peace Bureau, Mr. Colin Archer, Deputy Mayor of Oslo, Mrs. Aud Kvalbein, and General Secretary of the Kirkens Bymisjon Oslo, Prof. Sturla Stålsett, were some of the prominent European speakers at the conference.
Besides the speakers, over 125 renowned experts, academics, representatives from peace research institutes, and interested people from various nations, participated in the conference.
"It is a humongous task to find harmony among diversity. Often, diversities remain, or lead into more conflicts and contradictions. It needs such a skill to turn this into something that supports life rather than destroys life… Conflicts are bound to come, but we cannot allow them to stagger our progress towards peace. With patience, and perseverance, we have to move forward,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the main motivation behind the initiative, said.
''Whether it is inter-religious conflict, or intra-religious conflict, or it is a conflict between communist ideology or capitalist ideology, it all starts in the minds of people, in the hearts of people. When such conflict begins, they shut themselves for reasoning, prejudice overtakes, and communication goes haywire. It is here we need to build the trust among the communities. Spiritual leaders, religious leaders, can play a bigger role in this,'' Sri Sri added.
"Through this conference, we appeal to everyone for peace and restraint, and to spread the voice of non-violence to every corner of the world," Sri Sri said in his concluding remarks.
During the course of the conference, a host of subjects such as 'the role of civil society and the governments in conflict resolution', 'the role of the media in conflict resolution' and 'peace building in South Asia' were discussed in detail. Separately, workshops on the Naxal insurgency problem in India and Nepal, ethnic Tamil strife in Sri Lanka, and the military regime in Burma, were also conducted, which touched on the critical contours of the subjects.
Deliberating upon the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka, top Norwegian peace negotiator Jon Hanssen-Bauer said, "The common understanding between the government and the LTTE has been that talks are aimed at finding a political solution that is acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka. For Norway, any solution endorsed by the Sri Lankan people is of course acceptable to us."
Participants also expressed concern at the existing situation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Thondaman from Sri Lanka said, ''I am strongly of the opinion that there is no military solution. It is essential to evolve a political solution.”
Buddhist Master Seevali Nayaka Thero said that there is so much conflict happening today and this is the time for both the Government and the LTTE to think about how many lives are being lost because of the war. “In any place, in any country, only by war you cannot solve the problems. Only peace talks can solve the problem. This is exactly the message Lord Buddha conveyed 2555 years back'', he added.
MDMK leader Vaiko spoke of compassion as being the cardinal principle to be highlighted by the international community. He commented, ''Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has done a commendable job by convening a conference of this scale.''
Meanwhile, the conference zeroed down on the problem of Naxalism, which has been identified as "the single largest threat to the internal security of the country" by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the past. The ultra-left Naxal movement, which started in the late sixties, today affects one-third of the total districts of India and has been responsible for the death of thousands of people. Explaining the government's perspective, Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr. Netam, said that the problem has also had a serious socio-economic aspect to it. He outlined various steps taken by the state government to bring the Naxal youth into the mainstream and counter the insurgency militarily. Nirj Deva, Member of European Parliament, who conducted the workshop on Naxalism, said that he would take up the issue with fellow parliamentarians and work towards increasing awareness and action in this regard.
Among other prominent participants at the conference were Mr. Francois Gautier, Editor-in-chief, La Revue de I'lnde, Prof. Brahma Chellaney, Centre for Policy Research, India, and Dr. Wasim Zaman, United Nations Populations Fund.