OSLO CONFERENCE ON SOUTH ASIAN CONFLICTS UNDERLINES SPIRITUALITY AND PEACE AS THE WAYS 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 Myanmar, was organized by the International Association for Human Values of Indian spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and discussed possible ways and means to resolve the conflicts. Another aim of the initiative was to 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.
Norway's Special Envoy for the Peace Process in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Members of European Parliament, Erika Mann and Nirj Deva, Secretary General of the International Peace Bureau, Colin Archer, and Deputy Mayor of Oslo, Aud Kvalbein, were some of the prominent European speakers at the conference.
From Asia, Ramvichar Netam, Home Minister of the Naxal insurgency-affected state of Chhattisgarh, and MDMK chief Vaiko represented India, while the Sri Lankan perspective was presented by Arumugam Thondaman, Minister for Youth Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, MP, Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha, General Secretary of SCOPP, and prominent Buddhist Monks, Dr. Brahmanawatte Seevali Nayaka Thero, Deputy Secretary General, Sri Lanka Amarapura Mahanikaya, and Dr. Maduluvave Sobitha Nayaka Thero, Chief Incumbent of Nagavihara Kotte. Besides the speakers, over 125 renowned experts, academics, representatives from peace research institutes, and interested people from various nations, participated in the unique initiative.
"It is a humongous task to find harmony among diversity. We must continue to pursue the path of peace. Conflicts are bound to come and we have to make them a stepping stone to achieve the ultimate goal of global peace," 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 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 the Sri Lankan government, Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), Buddhist monks in China, Chinese government, Myanmar regime...everyone for peace and restraint, and to have a preference for coming to the table for resolution of issues," the globally known Indian spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 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', 'role of the media in the 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."
Stressing on the limitations the foreign mediators had in terms of understanding the conflict situations in a given context of Asian countries, he said: "One should not be tempted to try to impose an externally designed solution to conflicts, but assist the parties in defining a domestic one.”
“In our view, mediation works best when the mediators opt for a low profile and avoid visibility on their own behalf. They should aim for a limited role, be more obsessed with process than results and stay involved through the complex ups and downs of a typical peace process," Hanssen-Bauer added.
Participants also expressed concern at the existing situation in Sri Lanka. Mr Thondaman, minister from Sri Lanka said, ''I am strongly of the opinion that there is no military solution. It is essential to evolve a political solution. His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been preaching the attainment of inner peace for years, through yoga, meditation and stress relief. An individual at peace, within himself, he obviously influences the inner peace of other individuals around him.”
Buddhist Master Seevali Nayaka Thero said that today there is so much conflict happening and this is the time to think for both the Government and LTTE about how many lives are being lost because of this war. “In any place, in any country, only by war you cannot solve the problems. Only peace talks, and reconciliation, can solve the problem. This is exactly the message Buddha conveyed 2055 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 also 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 killings of thousands of people in states battling the menace. Explaining the government's perspective, Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, Ramvichar 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.
On its part, the International Association for Human Values, and its sister organisation, the Art of Living Foundation, has also taken a lot of initiative in educating youth in the affected districts about the importance of spirituality. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also persuaded the Naxalites for dialogue, and called upon them to give up violent means. 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 Khin Maung Win, Deputy Executive Director, Democratic Voice of Burma, Francois Gautier, Editor-in-chief, La Revue de I'lnde, Brahma Chellaney, Centre for Policy Research, India, and Dr. Wasim Zaman, Director, CST for South and West Asia, United Nations Populations Fund.