Feb 14 (swissinfo) Almost four years after Sri Lankan government forces crushed Tamil rebels, Switzerland is backing a South African post-Apartheid reconciliation initiative to bring parties to the negotiating table, but the prospect for lasting peace remains elusive.
Since 2011 South Africa and civil society groups have been leading a multi-pronged peace initiative aimed at restarting Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Sri Lankan government negotiations and supporting potential reconciliation efforts following the end of 30 years of war.
Sri Lankan and South African officials visited each other on several occasions last year and a TNA delegation flew to Africa for further contacts earlier this month.
Eager to help find a durable peace solution for the southeast Asian state, Switzerland is lending financial and political support to the South African initiative.
"Switzerland is convinced that only an inclusive dialogue can bring about a lasting solution to the political conflict in which all parties, including the minorities, co-decide on an equal footing," said Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Carole Wälti.
Observers say potentially the South African experience has much to teach post-war Sri Lanka, but the initiative comes with risks attached.
"Governments concerned with sustainable peace in Sri Lanka also need to be careful that their desire for constructive engagement does not end up facilitating Colombo’s intransigence and delaying tactics," declared an International Crisis Group (ICG) report last November.
"Hard to be optimistic"
Alan Keenan, an ICG Sri Lanka expert, went further, stating that it was "hard to be optimistic" about the South African initiative: "If it has any value, it is only as a long-term channel for eventual trust-building between the parties. But the onus is on the Sri Lankan government to show a willingness to match the many compromises that the main Tamil party has made recently … I don't see this happening any time soon."
He accused the Sri Lankan government of having no interest in fair negotiations with Tamil political parties, no intention to devolve meaningful power to the Tamil-majority northern province or the Tamil-speaking majority eastern province, and of going back on its many promises.
Current policies towards Tamils, especially in the northern province, were undermining their rights and damaging the prospects of a lasting political settlement, he added.
"It is very important that both the Swiss government and the South African government make this lack of progress clear to the world and not allow the Sri Lankan government to mislead the world on this point. Both the Swiss and the South African governments should support a strong resolution at next month's session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva," said Keenan.