Leaders need to set aside lofty morals and try to negotiate with suicide bombers and other terrorists, members of the Northern Ireland and Sri Lankan peace processes told the Madrid summit on Wednesday.
`We have the highest number of suicide bombings in the world in a secular, nationalist conflict,` Ram Manikkalingam, the special advisor to Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, told the summit marking the anniversary of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings.
`When you talk of suicide bombers it is with a sense of horror. Can you neogtiate peace with people who use suicide killings?
We don?t know that yet, but we can delay war for a long, long time and maybe that is the peace we can have,` he said of the troubled peace process with the Tamil Tigers rebels, which suffered a new setback with seven people killed at the weekend.
Manikkalingam said if one held to a `reasonable moral position, then you cannot talk with these people, but that is not a luxury a head of state can have, maybe a leader of the opposition could.`
Practical issues, including dealing with December?s tsunami disaster, had led to breakthroughs in the search for peace with the Tamil Tigers, with whom talks began in February 2002 after Norway negotiated a truce between the rebels and the state.
Face-to-face talks have been on hold since April 2003, but both sides have agreed to honour the ceasefire.
`If we talk about identity and morality, everybody will immediately be stuck on that. Political morality is a completely different question from how people can live together,` Manikkalingam said.
He spoke on a panel that looked at lessons to be drawn from countries that have gone from conflict to peace, meeting here on the second day of the summit where some 200 experts and 20 heads of state are searching for a democratic way of dealing with terrorism.
Nobel peace laureate John Hume, who was instrumental in drafting the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland, said politicians had to learn to `make an abnormal society normal, you have to do abnormal things.`
`If people had been told that in order to get rid of Hitler 40 million people would have to be killed, they would have said let?s look for another way,` Hume said.
Of his experience of negotiating with the Irish Republican Army, he said: `Even though we condemn terror organisations, we should remember that they believe in what they are doing, so we should examine the reasons that motivate them and deal with those reasons.`
`We need paradigm shifts, we need to look outside our boxes.`
Hume was flanked by former Protestant paramilitary and chief spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party, David Ervine, who said the Irish troubles carried on for as long as they did because people held two opposing concepts of morality.
`I hate the word morality. It is the greatest objection to dialogue. Our concept of morality stopped us from looking at the problem we should be dealing with,` Ervine said.
Both Hume and Ervine said an end to violence became possible because people spoke to each other and discovered their `sameness` and expressed hope for the peace process.
`Northern Ireland is in deep political crisis,` Ervine said, `but the peace process is intact and I am hopeful because in my 51 years I have never known a political crisis before that was not underpinned by structural violence.
`There is no structural violence in Northern Ireland today and against that backdrop the political crisis feels almost pleasant.`
The Madrid summit, which closes Friday on the anniversary of the bombings that killed 191 blamed on the Al-Qaeda network, has heard much criticism of Washington?s `war on terror`, with delegates saying reprisal risked breeding more terror and urged finding an alternative.