By Thilak S. Fernando

" Why should we be concerned about war in Sri Lanka?" was the topic discussed at a public meeting held on Friday the 13th February 1998, at St James's Church, Piccadilly, West London. The meeting was sponsored by The Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland and four guest speakers, Dr. N. Selvy Thiruchandran, Director of the Women's Education and Research Centre in Colombo, Revd. Duleep de Chickere, Priest of the Diocese of Colombo, Church of Ceylon, Dr. Asanga Tilakaratne, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Buddhist Philosophy at the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies and Dr. Jehan Perera, Media Director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, introduced as "Friends for Peace", had come all the way to London to talk about " Peace or War " in Sri Lanka.

As much as 'Friday 13th' was a bad omen for those who have the superstitious element in their blood, the blood pressure of some of the audience at the Church Hall was visibly rising to boiling point due to the terminology & analysis used by a particular speaker and also about distorted and false statistics quoted by a second guest speaker.

In an audience consisting of about fifty people, many of whom were white, a handful of patriotic Sinhalese gave a rough ride to Dr. Jehan Perera when he, either deliberately or quite ignorantly attempted to distort statistics of Tamil people living outside North and East of Sri Lanka. The Media Director of the National Peace Council appeared to be blushing with embarrassment when a Sri Lankan expatriate attempted to haggle him with true figures; it was evident that a London audience knew much more than the visiting Media Director about the number of Tamil people who lived outside North and the East.

At one point, another question was raised from the floor during question time, and a Sri Lankan expatriate wanted to know how the so-called grievances of Tamil people living outside the North and East be redressed in the event of the present Devolution proposals by the Government being implemented. The replies that came out of the visiting speakers were quite vague and unconvincing. Dr. Jehan Perera's view point appeared to be that power sharing by the Tamil people in those areas to be the magic wand to the problem, and he cited comments made by the UNP on these lines. Rev. Chickera pointed out that those Tamil people living in the South will have to make a crucial decision - either go to the North and East permanently or to live as they are now.

The contribution made by Dr.Asanga Tilakaratne was reasonably fair in the analysis of the problem when he pointed out that the present deadlock in dialogue was owing to the uncompromising attitude of the LTTE.

Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran's version appeared substantially the ideology of the LTTE - both in terminology she used and the analysis she made. Among many examples she cited, good missionary schools and Universities etc., in North & East that helped to produce Tamil intellectuals, to become men of the world today, were all by accident. It was rather pathetic to note that an intellectual of her calibre to have stood up on a London platform saying that Post-Independent Sri Lanka has been Sinhala dominated and discriminative of the Tamil people - emphatically calling Sri Lanka Government a Sinhala State.

What ever the reasons behind organising such a meeting in London and considering the fact that four prominent speakers had to come all the way from Sri Lanka to Piccadilly to speak to an audience of less than fifty people not only was a miserable failure but the worst being the speakers were unable to explain even to the handful of listeners at the Church Hall how peace could be achieved in Sri Lanka because of the intransigence of the LTTE.

The news about the meeting is spreading thick and fast only now, a bit too late in the day, when the horse has bolted, yet the general consensus of the expatriate Sri Lankans in London is that, it would have been much more beneficial if the these four visitors to London had gone to the East and tried to speak to the Tigers on reconciliation! After all London Piccadilly is quite a busy point in London, and many say that the presence of fifty people to discuss war or peace in Sri Lanka was just a futile exercise as fifty is a number one can find even at a bus stop at Piccadilly!