|Tuesday, 15 March 2011 15:31|
Ambassador Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New YorkAfter 27 years, Sri Lanka’s conflict ended suddenly and comprehensively on 18th May 2009. The violence ended and, since then, not a single suicide bomb has been exploded or a gun fired in anger. A reconstruction and reconciliation process is in full swing. An unprecedented effort is under way to revive the economy of the whole country – To bring prosperity to all our people. Let us also not forget that the scars of 27 years will not be healed in a two years.
Over the years, successive governments had adopted a strategy of seeking a peaceful end to the conflict. Repeated efforts to engage the LTTE in a dialogue failed as it repeatedly reneged on peace agreements and reverted to large scale terrorist attacks. In 2006, Government delegations met the LTTE three times, with the assistance of the Norwegians. I myself led a delegation to Oslo. The President pledged in public, to meet the LTTE leader anywhere to discuss peace, but was rebuffed. Confident of its invincibility and, funded from overseas, the LTTE continued its acts of horrendous violence and terrorism, exacting a heavy toll on civilian lives, property and the economy. The overseas funds which were critical to the LTTE were collected from voluntary contributions or were exacted through intimidation.
Even during the height of the conflict, successive Governments, setting the tone for the post conflict period, had ensured a continuous supply of essential goods and services, such as free healthcare and education, to the Tamil civilians in the North and the East under the domination of the LTTE. For over twenty seven years, despite all the economic and logistical difficulties, Sri Lanka sent food and medical supplies to the North. All the schools and hospitals were funded and staffed by the Government in Colombo. The ICRC had access to the LTTE dominated beachhead almost till the very end of the conflict.
The economic imperatives were recognized immediately by the government once the conflict ended. Resettling the displaced, who had streamed into the camps prepared in advance by the Government, was the immediate priority. First, the Government was confronted with the massive task of providing shelter, food and ensuring healthcare for approximately 294,000 IDPs. Despite all the reservations expressed at the time, especially by the NGO community, and the UNHCR, the vast majority of the IDPs have been successfully returned to their villages and towns, despite the enormous cost. The cost of feeding the IDPs three meals a day was in excess of US$ 1 million a day. The UN, the bilateral donors and the NGOs played a helpful role. Today over 95% of the original 294,000 IDPs in the North have returned to their villages. Of those remaining, many, about 17,000, have been permitted to leave, but have chosen to remain because of the facilities available in the camps.
Persisting with the recovery effort, over 850 schools and all the hospitals and clinics have been rehabilitated. Hundred of miles of roads and power lines have been restored. The economic revival is in fully swing in the North. Agricultural and fisheries production in the former LTTE controlled areas has continued to surge. 200,000 acres of rice have come under the plough. An additional 75,000 tons of fish from the North and the East are now added to the market monthly. The government has committed $ 360 million to the development of the North. Bilateral and multilateral donors over $ 2 billion.
Economic marginalization in the past was a factor that caused disenchantment in peoples minds.
A remarkable level of confidence has returned to the country contributing to the reconstruction effort. This is particularly evident in the business community and the revival of business confidence has been largely independent of government involvement. The government for its part, has firmly encouraged these economic trends. The record upward movement in the stock market and steady inward investment flows reflect this confidence. The stock market has continued to surge and has improved by over 180%. Inward tourism has rebounded by over 50% since January 2010. Considerable interest has been shown by foreign investors, including large hotel chains. Shangrila has agreed to invent over US$ 500 million.
The government has also continued to revive political activity and open up space for pluralistic politics. It is hoped that this process will throw up leaders who will represent their communities. For its part, the government has continued to enlarge its support base, winning a series of elections emphatically. The President was re-elected with over 58% of the ballot. In fact, no government has enjoyed so much popular support after five years in office and the governing party won close to two thirds of the seats in Parliament at the elections held in April 2010. Now it controls over two thirds of the seats. There is very little doubt that the vast majority of the people in the country are solidly behind the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and its policies. Provincial Council elections have been held in 8 provinces. Local government elections will be held next month. Nobody believes that there is a magic political solution to the concerns of our minorities. Political solutions have to evolve.
As part of the reconciliation process, the government has adopted an extremely conciliatory attitude towards former combatants. The former LTTE cadres in the camps were initially separated and sent for rehabilitation. 11,700 were identified. The Government decided to treat most of them as victims rather than as criminals. Now over 6000 have been allowed to return to their homes and communities. This was in less than 15 months since the end of the conflict. Their rehabilitation included training in basic life skills. 1440 are being further investigated. Over 17,000 individuals, separated from their families, have been reunited. The government has implemented a clear policy to return the children to their own families, communities and schools. Child combatants who surrendered were placed in rehabilitation centers in Ambepussa which will be closed this year. This centre has received high praise from visitors. Children were given vocational training and training in English and IT and counseling. The centre established in Ratmalana trained children for government examinations. All of them have now been returned to their own communities and parents.
There are over 1350 NGOs registered in Sri Lanka and they play a useful role in our reconstruction efforts. 45 local NGOs and INGOs and 11 UN agencies are currently working in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka on rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes in the Northern Province.
The Tamil community scattered around the world is an important factor in the reconciliation and reconstruction effort. Many of those who have returned to their villages have relatives elsewhere in the world. The government has continued to reach out to these communities.
Minorities have continued to prosper in majority Sinhala areas of the country, including Colombo. 54% of Tamils live among the majority community. Tamils constitute over 40% of the population of Colombo. Some of the leading business houses in Colombo are minority owned. Many of the leading professionals in Colombo come from the minority communities and no restrictions exist on their lives, socially or economically.
Examining the causes of the conflict is central to ensuring that there will be none in the future. The Government has established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) consisting of a number of eminent persons with this in mind. This Commission, including representatives from the minorities, has a wide mandate to look into the factors that gave rise to the conflict including, infractions of international standards, and make recommendations. So far the LLRC has had a large number of sittings in various parts of the country and has invited anyone, including critics from abroad, to present evidence before it. Hundreds of persons from within and outside the country have appeared before the Commission. It even invited AI, HRW and ICG to present any evidence of infractions of global standards. These organizations have jointly decided to decline this invitation. We, for our part, are very disappointed. A set of interim recommendations have been made and are being implemented by an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Attorney General. It is hoped that the LLRC will address the concerns expressed by interested persons, primarily with a view to facilitating the return to normalcy and helping the country to recover from its 27 year nightmare of terrorism. The LLRC has, through a public notification, made it possible even for the SG’s Panel of Experts to make submissions before it.
Sri Lanka is at a critical juncture in its history and has a unique opportunity to bring its people together and make their island home a better place for all. I am confident that we will deal with the aftermath of our victory over terrorism in a manner that will ensure peace and prosperity to all.