|Remarks by Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama|
|Thursday, 18 March 2010 14:52|
Remarks by Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the media on 18th March 2010
I. Proposed Panel of Experts to be Appointed by the UNSG for Advice on Accountability Issues relating to Sri Lanka:
Recognizing these clear violations (attempt to violate the UN Charter and interfere in the internal affairs of a Member State) the Chair of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement on behalf of the 118 Member Non-Aligned Movement unequivocally expressed the Group’s concern on the announced intention to appoint a Panel of Experts by the UNSG to advice him on accountability issues relating to Sri Lanka. The NAM letter was based on the principled positions of the Movement as contained in the Sharm El Sheikh Final Document adopted by the 15thNAM Summit, vis-à-vis respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs of States, impartiality, non-selectivity and transparency in addressing human rights issues.
1. The letter further expressed the need, based on the principles of national ownership and leadership, to allow enough space and time for the Government of Sri Lanka to complete its own domestic processes, without interference or unsolicited assistance.
2. The timing of the proposed initiative to coincide with the election cycle in Sri Lanka smacks of a deliberate attempt to derive political mileage by providing unnecessary fodder to the opposition, to local and international apologists of the LTTE including to those remaining elements of the LTTE currently active abroad.
3. It is pertinent to remind the international community that it took the UK almost eight years to establish the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry. It has only been eight months since the conflict ended in Sri Lanka and it has far exceeded everyone’s expectations with resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction. What is being hurled at Sri Lanka as human rights violations in reality, consist of suggestions, allegations and innuendo. However, Sri Lanka’s current bane is that the international community is unreasonably prodding the Government onto taking bigger action at galloping pace with often shifting goal posts. Such haste does not help the Government nor the people or key stakeholders to evolve enduring solutions to issues emanating from a thirty -year long conflict.
Hence, what should underline the thinking of the UN is the necessity to provide the Government with the space needed to establish a domestic mechanism to look into such issues with national reconciliation as the guiding principle. H.E. the President had assured the UNSG in the telephone conversation on this issue that such a domestic mechanism would be established. Therefore, in keeping with the electoral mandate received by H.E. the President and as expressed in the Joint Statement,
1. The Government will evolve domestic measures to address those issues referred to in the Statement.
2. In this context, what would be more constructive is for the UNSG to continue the current dialogue on this issue with the GOSL without the UN seeming to take unilateral action. The UNSG should facilitate the proposed visit by Mr. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, to Sri Lanka following the General Elections to assess first hand, the progress made on key fronts and discuss the details of the proposed domestic mechanism to be set up by the Government. Sri Lanka, as a democratic state has the capacity and the ability to change course in a positive direction. It is important to highlight that the Government has facilitated local Government, Provincial Council and presently General elections, allowing a moderate Tamil political leadership to emerge, one that the GOSL could engage with to resolve all outstanding issues. Resolving these issues in an enduring manner, calls for necessary Constitutional changes that involve a lengthy process.
3. What often escapes the understanding of the international community is that such unreasonable moves on the part of them feeds public resentment which then erodes the consensus needed to facilitate processes for national reconciliation. This has serious ramifications for Sri Lanka’s political stability. The need to sustain this critical mass of public support is particularly important when a majority of the people have given an overwhelming electoral mandate to the President.
1. This issue, if not resolved taking into consideration Sri Lanka’s unique context and rising public anger against the UNSG’s proposed move, has the potential to dent/sour the excellent partnership Sri Lanka has been enjoying with the UN since Independence.
II. Channel 4 Issues:
1. Sri Lanka regrets that Channel 4 has continued to engage in partial and subjective reporting on events related to Sri Lanka. Having found common cause with those diaspora elements of the LTTE and others inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests, Channel 4 has been faithfully answering the call by keeping the focus on Sri Lanka negative and vindictive.
On the Channel 4 News Report on General Sarath Fonseka
1. A delegation of senior officials of the Sri Lanka Government comprising the Attorney General, the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance & Planning, the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice & Law Reforms and the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs undertook an official visit to Brussels from 14th to 18th March, on the instructions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
2. The visit took place in the context of the current post-conflict scenario, in which the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to being strongly engaged with the international community, including with Sri Lanka’s key trade and economic partners. A series of high-level engagements between the Sri Lanka Government and the EU have already taken place in this regard, including my visit to Brussels in January 2009.
3. The Sri Lanka delegation on 15th March met with the European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. This meeting was followed by an in-depth and substantive discussion on GSP+ related concerns with the officials handling Trade and External Relations matters in the Commission.
4. During discussions, the delegation pointed out that Sri Lanka has a long-standing democratic tradition. It is therefore inevitable that with the end of the extraordinary situation of terror faced by Sri Lanka for almost three decades, there would now follow a progressive return to normalcy, accompanied by on-going efforts towards the further strengthening of good governance, while having regard to transitional law enforcement and security challenges. This return to normalcy in turn provides a necessary basis for a continuing engagement with the European Union. The delegation observed that there has already been significant progress on several areas such as the re-settlement of the Internally Displaced and the rehabilitation of former child soldiers.
5. During discussions, the Sri Lanka delegation and the European Commission officials focused on identifying the specific areas that need to be addressed, while observing that some of the issues have already been resolved. The delegation further added that Sri Lanka envisages a methodology of work that would best permit the issues to be addressed in a purposeful manner.
6. The delegation also met with the Director General of ECHO, the Humanitarian Aid arm of the European Commission, Dr. Peter Zangl.
7. In a meeting with the Director General for External and Politico-Military Affairs of the European Council Robert Cooper, the delegation underlined the importance Sri Lanka attaches to widening and deepening her ties with the European Union.
8. The delegation has also met with the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator of the Council of the European Union Gilles De Kerchove, the President of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and former High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN Louise Arbour, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The European Parliamentarians have been strongly supportive of Sri Lanka Government’s efforts to retain the GSP+ facility.
9. The Chairman of the ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ group and longstanding member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Geoffrey Van Orden, in a letter addressed to 27 Ambassadors of Member States of the EU, called on the EU countries to “take account of the wider situation and improvements on the ground” in deciding on the GSP+ issue in relation to Sri Lanka. (Copies of two Press Releases issued by Hon. Van Orden, and a transcript of the positive comments made by the European Parliamentarians on the Sri Lanka GSP+ issue at a discussion at the International Trade Committee Meeting of the European Parliament on 14th January, have been made available to you).
10. In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that the GOSL has adopted a consistent policy of engagement with the EU on the GSP+ issue with a view to retaining it, in a manner respectful of our national interest. In this regard, I have always emphasized that Sri Lanka should maintain a consistent dialogue with the EU on issues of concern. This visit is a reflection of the consistency of this policy. It is my firm belief that the amicable settlement of differences is in the best interest of both parties.
11. I welcome in this context the remarks made by the EU in a statement issued on 16th March, that “the Commission remains committed to work with Sri Lanka to see whether the conditions for a reversal of such a decision are in place”, and that “the Sri Lankan and EU counterparts agreed to meet again”.
IV. Sri Lankan crew members on hijacked vessels off the coast of Somalia
1. Saudi Arabian vessel, ‘MV Al Nasr Al Saudi’ with 13 Sri Lankan crew members
A Saudi Arabian vessel ‘MV Al Nasr Al Saudi’ was hijacked by pirates along the Yemeni coast and then moved to the Somalia coast on 1st March 2010. The vessel sailed with fourteen crew members which included a Greek national who was the captain while the remaining 13 member crew consisted of Sri Lankan nationals. The crew had travelled to Japan and joined the ship, which was on its maiden voyage after the International Bunkering Company Ltd in Saudi Arabia had acquired it from Japan.
Following this incident, I immediately called for a report from the Sri Lanka Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah and requested the Missions to obtain all details pertaining to the crew members and extend all possible assistance to ensure their welfare and expedite their release.
The Sri Lanka Embassy in Riyadh took prompt action and contacted the Saudi Navel authorities and other connected organizations. The Consul General in Jeddah has also held a series of meetings with the General Manager of the company which owns this ship.
Following these meetings, the General Manager of the shipping company had stated that the family members of the thirteen Sri Lankan crew members had been apprised of the incident through their local representative in Sri Lanka, M/S. Viththy Marine in Colombo, including the actions being taken by the shipping company to secure the release of the crew.
The Consulate was also informed that the shipping company had established contacts with the pirates through satellite communication and the pirates have assured the shipping company that they would not harm the Sri Lankan crew members.
In addition, the Captain of the vessel had also spoken with the Company officials and had informed that since all the crew members were on board the vessels, they had all necessary basic facilities and that they were in good health. On the request of our Consulate, the company had also made arrangements to credit talk time through a satellite phone to enable the crew members to speak to their families in Sri Lanka. The company had also handed over the salary dues of the Sri Lankan crew for the past two months to our Consulate in Jeddah to be sent to their families in Sri Lanka.
Currently the company is awaiting the arrival of a professional negotiating team from UK to arrive in Jeddah in order to commence negotiations with the pirates following their demand for US$20Million as ransom for the ship and the crew. I have instructed our Consulate in Jeddah to liaise with the company and ensure that all necessary action is taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the crew and expedite their release. I have also instructed the Consular Affairs Division of this Ministry to assist the families of the crew and provide then with information on this matter on a regular basis.
2. MV ‘Ro Ro Laila’
The three Sri Lankan crew members consisting of the vessel’s Captain, Chief Engineer and a crew member have all been released. However, their departure has been delayed as the company had not been able to find replacements for them in time. Action has now been taken to urgently appoint the replacement crew. Once this process is completed, the crew will be repatriated to Sri Lanka. Our High Commission in Kenya and our Missions in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Jeddah are also coordinating this matter.