Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama stated that more pressure must be brought upon the LTTE by the international community, including punitive measures on its international network present in the UK, when a delegation comprising a  cross-party group of Members of Parliament from the United Kingdom called on him at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday (05 May 2009). He cautioned MPs to carefully evaluate their participation in events and programmes organized by LTTE front organizations, as it only leads to these operatives to seek legitimacy purporting to be endorsement with such presence.

Referring to the recent demonstrations held in London, Minister Bogollagama stated that the illegal and blatant displays of LTTE symbols and insignia endorsing the separatist agenda, makes it absolutely clear that these demonstrations are being conducted by the LTTE. He added that while Sri Lanka fully understands that the tenets of democracy by which sovereign nations are guided, have to give way to the free articulation of views, there is a need to be careful that government positions and policies do not become influenced by false propaganda.  In this regard, it was unfortunate that Sri Lanka is faced with many baseless allegations, which are being espoused by the LTTE activists in foreign countries. Minister Bogollagama expressed the need for the international community to clearly distinguish between the slogans of the LTTE demonstrators from the real aspirations of the Tamil people.

 The Foreign Minister also emphasized the importance of curbing illegal fund raising in the UK by the LTTE through its front organizations, as this will help to reduce the supply of arms to the terrorist group. He highlighted that it is these weapons that are being used by the LTTE to kill and terrorize the very same people whom they claim to represent.

Elaborating on the facilities at the welfare villages for the fleeing civilians, Minister Bogollagama stated that the IDPs are registered in a transparent manner in the presence of the UN.  Restrictions to the movements of the IDPs are purely due to security concerns as the terrorist infiltration remains a realistic threat.  However, a programme has been established to re-unite IDPs with their families in the welfare villages.  He emphasized that it was the aim of the government to resettle the IDPs in the shortest possible time frame, once land mines have been cleared, as was done in the Eastern Province. He informed that the first phase of the resettlement programme started on 30th April 2009, with 122 families returning to their original places of habitation.

The British Members of Parliament observed that the Sri Lankan government has done more than they expected in a very short time period for the welfare of the civilians who have fled LTTE control and come over to the cleared areas.  They conveyed their appreciation to Minister Bogollagama, stating that they were impressed that the situation was well in hand, following a visit to the IDP camps in Vavuniya yesterday. While observing that the government has done a commendable job in providing basic facilities to the IDPs, compared to many other such sites they have seen in a number of countries, the MPs added that IDPs who had been picked at random by the Parliamentary delegation and questioned on the reason for their delay in moving to the cleared areas had categorically blamed the LTTE for holding them hostage under the threat and intimidation of being shot at by the terrorists. The MPs undertook to take this message to the Sri Lankan Tamil community in the UK. The delegation of MPs in unison wholeheartedly denounced terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

 Commenting on the presence of international humanitarian organizations, Minister Bogollagama highlighted that UN agencies, ICRC and other international humanitarian organizations are working very closely with the Government in its efforts to look after the civilians. At present, there are 52 INGOs and NGOs working with the IDPs. The Minister stated that these humanitarian organizations have been given the maximum access that is possible at the moment. The government will keep working towards providing enhanced access in keeping with the realities of the ground situation. He further stated that it was not prudent to make requests for access to the no-fire zone in view of the fact that its perimeter is heavily mined by the LTTE and that the safety of the these agencies cannot be guaranteed.

Minister Bogollagama assured the British MPs that no one is more concerned about these innocent civilians than the Government which is tirelessly working to ensure that all the facilities to the IDPs are provided according to internationally accepted standards in a very short time.  The government is well engaged in delivering its humanitarian responsibilities to the people, and the international community could only if at all, play a complementary role to this end. It is only the government which is sensitive to the needs of the people and therefore the international community, the INGOs and NGOs would need to work in tandem with the government. Commenting on the long term reconstruction phase in the North, he informed that the relevant plans of action are in the process of being completed. It is to be expected that the reconstruction required for the North is extensive, considering that it has been an area of conflict for over 25 years. Undoubtedly, the international community could assist, primarily in the infrastructure development projects.

The cross-party group of Members of Parliament from the United Kingdom who were on a two day visit to Sri Lanka (4th – 6th May 2009) comprising Desmond Browne, MP (Labour-Kilmarnock and Loudoun), Malcolm Bruce, MP (Liberal Democrat - Gordon), Edward McGrady, MP (Social Democratic & Labour-South Down, Northern Ireland), Mohammad Sarwar, MP (Labour - Glasgow Central) and John Bercow, MP (Conservative - Buckingham).

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Colombo

06th May 2009

 


The Statement of Hon. Foreign Minister is as follows:

Statement by Hon. M/FA at the Joint Meeting of the Visiting Cross-party Members of Parliament of the UK 05th May 2009

 

Hon. Members of the British Parliament

Actg. High Commissioner for the UK

Officials

 

It is my pleasure to welcome the Honourable members of the Cross-party Parliamentary Group from the United Kingdom to Sri Lanka.  I appreciate your continued interest and concern on the developments in Sri Lanka.  The traditionally warm engagement with the UK has deepened to an extent with a Cross-party Parliamentary Group visit taking place just a week after the Secretary of State H.E David Miliband visited Sri Lanka together with his French counterpart, Foreign Minister H.E. Bernard Kouchner.  Sri Lanka has always been receptive to constructive views expressed by the international community on the evolving issues relating, in particular, to the humanitarian operations in the North. It is in this context that H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa extended this invitation to you, with the view that, an engagement of this manner would provide a window for better understanding between Sri Lanka and the UK during these challenging times.

 

  Hon. Members of Parliament,

As you are aware, the people of Sri Lanka have suffered for many years from the bane of terrorism. It has brought much suffering and bloodshed to many. However, Sri Lankans today are faced with a glimmer of hope as we are poised on the threshold of defeating terrorism and embarking on an era of lasting peace and security for all our people. The people of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka have been deprived of democratic practices, enjoyed by their counterparts in the rest of the country, for nearly three decades by the LTTE. As you would recall, the Government of Sri Lanka recently liberated the people of the Eastern province and they were able to use their right to vote in an election after a lapse of more than 20 years. The ongoing humanitarian operation in the Northern Province is a similar liberation process. Therefore, I assure you that the near win on our war on terror has not pushed the Government’s quest for a political process for lasting peace, to oblivion, but closer.

I have closely followed the vibrancy with which the British Parliament has been involving itself primarily on the situation in the north of Sri Lanka, moreso, I believe at the behest of the constituents, some of whom have been the flag bearers for the LTTE. In fact the repugnant behavior of these LTTE activists on your soil, in the form of destruction of public property, causing bodily harm, being a public nuisance, intimidations etc.,  is deplorable. While we fully understand that the tenets of democracy by which our sovereign nations are guided by, have to give way to the free articulation of positions, we need to be careful that government positions and policies do not become tarnished with erroneous allegations. It is therefore quite unfortunate that Sri Lanka is faced with many baseless allegations. These allegations, as you are aware, are being espoused by LTTE activists in foreign countries. This is not surprising as one of the oldest strategies of the LTTE has been to use the “minority” slogan with which they have managed to gain the sympathy of many, and continued on an armed strategic path of amassing land area in a sovereign nation, with a bid to carve out a separate state.

Hon. Members of Parliament, it is important to note that while Sri Lanka, after more than 25 years, is poised to root out terrorism in our country, the international network of the LTTE  continues with its machinations  unabated in many countries, including the UK. This is evident from the recent demonstrations held in London and the uninterrupted fundraising. It is absolutely clear that the demonstrations in London are being conducted by the LTTE due to the blatant display of its flags, symbols and the upholding of its virus for a separate state in the articulation of their position. This manic flurry of lobbying is more in line to obtain a life-line for the beleaguered LTTE, which is confined to the No-Fire-Zone.

 The LTTE activists’ action is distinct from the real aspirations of the Tamil people. The peace loving Tamil community has lived side by side with the rest of the citizens in this country. In fact 54% of this community lives in and around the capital metropolis of Colombo. Therefore the Hon. Members of Parliament must recognize this distinction and not be swayed by LTTE propaganda as being that of the Tamil people. The Tamil cause which is often referred to by British parliamentarians, generally seems to be sullied by LTTE lines. It is time that the MPs seek to represent the British Tamils rather than the British LTTE  operatives.

It may be noted that there are several reports of intimidation and extortion conducted by LTTE international network in the UK that pose a threat to other peace-loving British Tamils. LTTE activities including the commemoration of deaths of suicide bombers have also taken place in the UK. Curbing illegal fund raising in the UK  by the LTTE through its front organizations,  is extremely important to reduce the supply of arms to this terrorist group. As you are aware , it is these arms that are being used by the LTTE to kill and terrorize the very same people whom they claim to be fighting for and represent, which is a misnomer, altogether.

It is disheartening, Hon. Members of Parliament that these illegal and blatant displays of LTTE insignias are now on the rise in the UK than ever before. I tend to wonder and wish to be informed of this change in position, since the UK Terrorism Act does provide for action to be taken for the use of symbols of proscribed organizations. More pressure must be brought upon the LTTE by the international community including punitive measures on its international network present in the UK. To this end I believe that the participation of MPs in events and progammes organized by LTTE front organizations, should also be carefully evaluated as it only leads to these operatives seek a legitimacy purporting endorsement with such presence. Undoubtedly there are the known LTTE front organizations whose activities should be shunned.

In Sri Lanka, the Government has now confined the LTTE to an area less than 05 Sq km in the safe zone created for the civilians. The security forces are also limiting  their attempts to rescuing civilians who are being held hostage and giving the foremost priority to the policy of zero civilian casualties. The LTTE on the other hand are blatantly continuing to use the civilians as a human shield and are preventing them from leaving. There are also reports that they are forcibly recruiting civilians. It is evident that pauses in military action and the numerous calls by the international community have not made the LTTE release the civilians. On the other hand the LTTE has used such times of pauses  to fortify themselves by building bunds and bunkers and moving heavy artillery to the No Fire Zone. The recent exodus of the entrapped civilians took place not during periods of military pause, in fact these times witnessed not more that 154 fleeing to the cleared area. Therefore the eternal chorus for a Ceasefire is redundant. Further as demonstrated by the resounding victories in the recent elections, the citizens of Sri Lanka have given a clear mandate to

H E President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to continue with his operational strategy of defeating terrorism. In this context too the international community would need to understand that the sentiments of our polity override extraneous demands.

This humanitarian operation in the North of Sri Lanka is now being referred to as a “war without witness” by some of our friends in the international community. This again is an example of the untruths being floated by the LTTE. High ranking UN officials and diplomats based in Colombo together with both local and foreign media have visited the welfare facilities that are provided to the fleeing civilians. As I mentioned earlier, the French and British Foreign Ministers visited last week to see for themselves the situation on ground and today we have you. The UN agencies, ICRC and other international humanitarian organizations are working very closely with the Government in our efforts to look after these civilians. There are 52 NGOs currently working with the IDPs. The most important witnesses would be the 168,000 odd people who have fled the clutches of the LTTE to the cleared areas. They are living testimony to the cruelty they have suffered at the hands of the LTTE and the nature of the rescue operation of the security forces.

The international humanitarian organizations have been given the maximum access that is possible at the moment. We will keep working towards providing enhanced access in keeping with the realities of the ground security situation. It is however, not prudent to make requests for access to the No-Fire-Zone. This is in view of the fact that the perimeter of the NFZ is heavily mined by the LTTE and that the safety of these agencies cannot be guaranteed due to the known LTTE behavior, for example the possibility of taking aid workers and personnel hostage. It may be noted that the Sri Lanka government has from the very start of the conflict continuously supplied food and medicine to  the area of operations. This has been done while overcoming many challenges on the part of the LTTE. The last consignment of 30 metric tons of food, adequate for 50,000 people for 01 week went on 27th April 2009, in addition to which medical supplies have also been sent.

 

Hon. Members of Parliament

I can assure you that no one is more concerned about these innocent civilians than the Government and we are tirelessly working to ensure that all the facilities to the IDPs are provided according to the accepted standards in a very short time.  The government of Sri Lanka is well engaged in delivering its humanitarian responsibilities to the people, and the international community could only if at all, play a complimentary role to this end. It is only the government which is sensitized to the needs of the people and therefore the international community, the INGOs and NGOs would need to work in consort. I am pleased to state that all the IDPs are with a roof above them either in transit facilities or welfare villages, and are being provided with food and water together with the assistance of the WFP and other humanitarian agencies. Community cooking has commenced in the welfare camps and water treatment plant has been put up with the assistance of the ICRC. Arrangements are in place for the setting up of another five water treatment plants to be used for the IDPs. A large water project funded by UNICEF is expected to be completed within three weeks. Due to the immediate action taken to provide medical assistance to the sick and injured, there have been no outbreaks of epidemics. Steps are also underway to upgrade the medical infrastructure of the hospitals in the region. India and France have each provided a field hospital. I must also acknowledge the UK’s allocation of 7.5 Million Pounds for humanitarian assistance.

The IDPs are registered in a transparent manner with the presence of the UN. Restrictions to the movements of the IDPs are purely due to security concerns as the terrorist infiltration remains a realistic threat. The issue of lack of communication with inhabitants of the IDP facilities has also been taken care of – telephone, telegram and postal services are now operating in almost all the sites. A programme has been established to re-unite families between IDP villages. Once the terrorists have been cleared, and the terrain freed of land mines, IDPs will be resettled within the shortest possible time frame, as was done in the Eastern province. You would be pleased to learn that the first phase of the resettlement programme started on 30th April 2009, with  122 families returning to their sites of habitation.

 Soon, we would be embarking on the long term reconstruction phase of the north. To this end the government is in the process of completing the related plans of action. Expectedly the reconstruction required for the north is extensive, considering that it has been an area of conflict for over 25 years. Undoubtedly the international community could assist, primarily in the infrastructure development projects. Such assistance should be extended in magnanimity and consultation with the government.

While dealing militarily to eliminate terrorism, a sustainable political solution in terms of a Sri Lankan agenda is also being worked out. The All Party Representative Committee is working to formulate a set of political proposals. His Excellency the President has invited the Tamil National Alliance again to participate in this process, which unfortunately was rejected by them as a group, though their individual MPs in instances have deferred from this position. At the same time, the government is having consultations with other Tamil and Muslim political parties and groups and the views of the

Sri Lankan Diaspora are also being sought. In fact, this is an aspect where you all, as Sri Lanka’s friends can contribute, by using your contacts with the Sri Lankan polity to impress the need for working together. These political proposals will certainly follow once the terrorists are defeated creating room for democratic pluralism.

In conclusion, I call on the Hon. Members of Parliament not to be misled by the LTTE propaganda and be pragmatic in their expectations considering that this is probably the world’s largest hostage rescue operation. While there are shortcomings, as would be expected in a situation of this magnitude, we are constantly reviewing the work in order to address these issues. We welcome the participation of the international community in our efforts to provide a normal life to the innocent people that have suffered for so long under the callous treatment of the LTTE.

Today’s meeting will, I am certain provide an accurate assessment of the work being carried out by the government to provide relief assistance to the IDPs. We have with us officials from the Ministries that are closely involved with this process. They will, I am sure, provide a thorough presentation of the current situation. Those with us today in the related areas are:

Mr. Suhada Gamlath, Secretary Justice; Mrs. Jegarasasingam, Secretary Social Services and Social Welfare; Mr. Kumarasiri,  Project Director/World Food Programme, Ministry of Nation Building;  Mr. Monty Ranatunge, Additional Project Director/UNHCR and Demining Project, Ministry of Nation Building; Rear Admiral Ratnakeerthi, Deputy Commissioner-General Essential Services; Mr. Halaldeen, Secretary Rehabilitation & Resettlement;  and Dr. Ajith Mendis, Director-General Health Services.

Considering the time constraint I believe it would be better to seek to clarify any issues you may have in relation to your findings during this visit.

Hope you will find this a productive meeting.

Thank you.

 

 

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