CIS welcomes former Sri Lankan PM


Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Sri Lankan attorney who served twice as prime minister of his country and currently serves as leader of its opposition party, has joined MIT's Center for International Studies (CIS) for discussions on the politics of the Indian Ocean region and conflict resolution in general.

Wickremesinghe, 57, is renowned for his pivotal role in negotiating a 2002 ceasefire with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, a minority group with a history of violent protests and bombings.

"It is an exceptional opportunity for the MIT community to have Ranil here. He provides us with experience and insights. We hope and trust he will benefit from his visit as much as we are," said John Tirman, CIS director. Wickremesinghe will be at MIT through May 15.

The decades-old conflict between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese community has resulted in more than 64,000 deaths in Sri Lanka, which was known as Ceylon until 1972. Even before negotiating the ceasefire, Wickremesinghe advocated a political end to the 20-year-old civil war - including rewriting the Sri Lankan constitution to establish a federal system of government and grant the Tamils regional autonomy.

Wickremesinghe unsuccessfully sought the office of president of Sri Lanka in 1999 and in 2005; victors in both elections accused him of being too lenient with the Tamils.

In December 2004, when more than 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed by the tsunami that devastated much of South Asia, civil conflicts arose anew. Nearly $3 billion in aid had to be shared among a coalition of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and the coalition broke down.

Since then, the former foreign minister has been assassinated and explosions, rioting and a suicide bomb attack have occurred.

In December 2005, acting as the country's opposition leader, Wickremesinghe met with Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapakse, to initiate a new peace process.

Wickremesinghe served as prime minister from 1993-1994 and again in 2001-2004. He has also served as minister of youth affairs and employment, minister of education and minister of industries.

He is married to Maithree Wickremesinghe, a senior lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya. A researcher in gender and women's studies, she is currently affiliated with Harvard.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 3, 2006 (download PDF).


Topics: Political science

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