US Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage in an important statement on the US policy towards the Sri Lanka Peace Process, has said, at a time the US had "overwhelming competing interests", its investing "significant attention and resources to Sri Lanka", could not be explained "by sticking to the terms of strict self-interest". He said they were doing so, in concert with other nations - because it can be done, because it is the right thing to do, because the parties to the conflict appear to be ready to reach a resolution more so than at any other time in the past twenty years and because it may well be that it is a resolution that can only be reached with the help of multinational resources, both moral and material. He said the infusion of such international support can add momentum to the Peace Process and that perhaps this is a nation with lessons to offer the world.
Deputy Secretary Armitage made these observations when he delivered the Keynote Address at a conference "Sri Lanka : Prospects for Peace" organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC held on Friday 14th February 2003. This follows Secretary of State Colin Powell's assurance last month to Sri Lanka's new Ambassador to the US Devinda R. Subasinghe, that " the US was committed to support Sri Lanka not only by word, but also in terms of substance".
Discussing the dynamics of the Peace Process, Mr. Armitage said "we must give due credit to President Kumaratunga whose Peace Plan of 1995 was an important precursor to the progress now seen" and that "today we owe much of that progress to the Government of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who continues to take bold steps in the direction of Peace". He emphasized that, "if Sri Lanka is to continue moving forward, the Government must move together as one. No individual, no single political party can carry this burden alone. This must be a concerted effort by the President, the Prime Minister and the Parties".
The Deputy Secretary noted that the scale and scope of the humanitarian, reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration needs associated with the Sri Lankan peace process, "made it absolutely critical that international support was lent to the process in order for it to succeed." Noting that the US Government had already pledged $ 8 million in support of programmes that need immediate humanitarian assistance, as well as a little over $ 1 million for de-mining, he said at the forthcoming Aid Conference in Tokyo in June " I believe, with a certain assurance, that I will be able to announce significant further assistance to Sri Lanka for both humanitarian and economic aid."
Mr. Armitage added that " such international involvement will come at a cost for Sri Lanka. The price tag for sustaining such interest will be progress-- a clear demonstration that all parties to the negotiations have the determination to see this through". He emphasized that by June, all elements of the Government, and the LTTE "will need to have made some hard choices and compromises that demonstrate the political will to proceed if they want to meet their ambitions for international support".
Minister for Economic Reform, Science and Technology Milinda Moragoda, in a statement to the conference read by Ambassador Subasinghe, acknowledged the critical role played by the international community " in keeping the Peace Process on track" and said " despite the inevitable detractions elsewhere in the world we need that engaged approach to keep both the Government and the LTTE clearly focused on moving forward".
Detailing the steps taken so far during the peace process and the challenges that lay ahead, Minister Moragoda expressed optimism that these could be achieved through resolve, partnership, hard work and understanding by Sri Lankans and the world community. He urged the international community to focus on three key areas of support. First, as the focus of the world turns to other areas of conflict and uncertainty, it should not be assumed that peace is guaranteed in Sri Lanka and that without continued world scrutiny and political support, the peace process could easily slip backwards into war once more. Second, there was need to revive the economy in order to relieve the unease of the people. Third, continued support was also needed to attract world class businesses that will help the economy to grow and play its role in this globalized world.
Director, South Asia Programme of the CSIS and former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Teresita C. Schaffer and Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the US Devinda R. Subasinghe made opening remarks. Dr. Vidyamali Samarasinghe of American University, Dr. Neil DeVotta of Michigan State University and Dr. Chester Crocker, of Georgetown University participated in a Panel Discussion on "The Challenges for the Peace Process". The participants at this conference included government policy makers, diplomats, business leaders, academics, journalists and NGO representatives.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
14 February 2003
Thank you, Ambassador Schaffer [Director, Center for Strategic and International Studies South Asia Program]. As a diplomat and a scholar, you are a role model. Your actions and your efforts and your care and your devotion to all things South Asia are well known, and well respected. And I am delighted also to see here the Ambassador [Subasinghe, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States]. It seems as though it was just last month that you were visiting us to present your credentials. Come to think of it, it was only a month ago. It looks like you're settling in pretty well.
I have to tell you, Tezi [Schaffer], of course I would come here for this occasion. I wouldn't miss it. Twenty years, as far as I'm concerned, between my visits to Sri Lanka, was too long. And I have a feeling it won't be that long again.I suspect I will be out there again in the not too distant future.I am
also delighted to be with all of you here today in a such a reflective setting. You know, one of the things that is most, sort of, uncomfortable and unpleasant about government service is there is no time for reflection. You rarely have the luxury of sitting back and actually thinking about something. And I am delighted to have a few minutes here.
The last couple of months -- and indeed weeks - have been a busy time of high-stakes diplomacy for our Department of State. Secretary [of State Colin] Powell and I have been to Capitol Hill six times together in the last two weeks - three testimonies apiece. Of course, we've been talking about such things as Iraq and its biological and chemical weapons and its nuclear intentions; about North Korea's self-inflicted deprivation and desperation, as millions of people are in danger of starving to death from mismanagement and bad luck; and about the high risk of terrorist attacks over this next week. But we've also been talking about the horrible terrorist bombing in downtown Bogota over the last weekend and the implications for the counter-narcotics efforts in the region, as well as the rockets fired at international forces in Kabul on Monday, which narrowly missed the visiting Defense Minister of Germany. It certainly did underscore the importance of our reconstruction efforts in that blighted land.
Given these priorities, I think it is important to start today's discussion on Sri Lanka with a baseline question: why should the United States invest significant attention and resources to Sri Lanka, especially at a time when we have such overwhelming competing interests? Should the United States play a role in this peace process?
Now, I believe the right answer is that the United States should play a role. And there are many credible explanations as to why. There is the pull of opportunity, of ending years of death and years of destruction and bolstering a multiethnic democracy. In the more direct bilateral sense, Sri Lanka is already a solid exporter to the United States and has the potential with peace and the right reforms to become a significant trade partner. And then there is the push of danger. As we have found out far too often, terror and human misery generally will not ebb away on their own or stay neatly within borders if we look at them as someone else's problem.
I have no doubt that the many experts Tezi [Schaffer] has assembled in this audience could provide more answers to my baseline questions. And when taken together, these answers may even add up to a compelling justification. But the problem is that these answers do not really constitute a clear strategic impetus for the United States or for other nations outside of Sri Lanka's immediate neighborhood, particularly in a time of war and economic uncertainty. It would be tough to make a truly convincing case by sticking to the terms of strict self-interest.
For me, the bottom line in this instance is simple. The United States should be playing a role, in concert with other nations, committing our human and financial resources to settling this conflict because it can be done. And because it's the right thing to do. Because the parties to the conflict appear to be ready to reach a resolution, more so than at any other time in the past twenty years. And because it may well be that it is a resolution that can only be reached with the help of multilateral resources, both moral and material.
Indeed, this may be a key moment, when an infusion of such international support can add momentum to the peace process, helping to stop 20 years of abject human suffering and to smooth the ripples of grief and terror that have spread from this tiny island nation through the region and even around the world. This may be the moment when international support can help to spring this country into prominence as a recovering victim of conflict, terrorism, and human rights abuses, but also as a respected participant in the global community. And while I wouldn't want to oversell Sri Lanka as a model -- this brew of caste, class, religion and race has its own unique flavor -- perhaps this is a nation with lessons to offer the world about how to move from despair to hope, from intractable conflict to workable concord, and, indeed, about how the international community can engage and support such conflict resolution.
So, with your permission, I'll share with you a few thoughts about the direction I see Sri Lanka heading in, and the more promising developments as well as the more problematic challenges, and how I believe the United States and the international community can most usefully participate.
Sadly, I have had the chance to see the costs of war up close. Last summer, I traveled to the Jaffna Peninsula. We first flew over the area in a helicopter and saw below us a blasted landscape, pockmarked with thousands of bomb craters and shell craters. For me, that view reminded me strongly of my time in the service in Vietnam. I really don't think I've seen anything quite like it since. And I'm talking both about the physical devastation and the sense of futility that was unmistakable on the ground.
We ventured into one of the cities that had been largely destroyed, where people were nonetheless starting to return, trying to reclaim lives many may have hardly remembered. Today, some 300,000 internally displaced people have returned to the northern and eastern parts of the country, even though these areas lack sanitation, clean water, and other basic amenities. This is, to some extent, a demonstration of confidence in the current cease-fire, but it also confirms something else I saw when I was there. We spoke with a cross-section of Tamil society in the area and the mixture of hope and wariness in their words was an unmistakable reminder that in Jaffna, and across Sri Lanka, a whole generation has grown up knowing little other than war, but is now ready for a change.
It was clear to me at the time that the solution had to start there, in the shattered people and bombed-out villages, in the universal longing for a better life. Because while it is clearly taking a firm decision from the parties to this fight to be partners and to act in the interests of peace, it is also going to take a commitment from all the people of Sri Lanka -- Muslims and Buddhists, Christians and Hindus, Sinhalese and Tamils -- from all parts of the country, if agreements made around the negotiating table are going to take hold on the ground.
Now, the challenge for the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE is going to be taking that universal longing and that national commitment and giving people tangible signs of progress and a way to participate in the process. I think they have done a good job to date. First, they have set a powerful foundation. Keeping to the cease-fire for the past year has, as I noted, allowed the public to reach a basic level of confidence. And it is critical that both parties continue to honor and keep this cease-fire. From my point of view, a loss of confidence at this point would be extraordinarily devastating.
December was also a watershed. The negotiators issued a common statement that called for "internal self-determination based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka," which created a shared vision for the future of the state, and dealt with many disagreements that destroyed past efforts at a negotiated solution. And in this latest round of talks, which just concluded last week in Berlin, the negotiators turned to concrete issues of humanitarian relief and human rights, including the LTTE's pledge to end child recruitment.
To me, this is all very encouraging. Indeed, two years ago, no one would have believed so much could happen so quickly. But to some extent, the steps taken to date have been the easy ones. And so the negotiations have entered a critical stage, a point at which both sides will have to show the courage to stay the course as they address more difficult issues and make real compromises.
Although the apprehension of an arms-laden trawler during the last round of negotiations and the self immolation by its LTTE crew were most remarkable for failing to derail peace talks, it also called into question the LTTE's commitment to the process. The LTTE is going to have to take a number of difficult steps to demonstrate that it remains committed to a political solution. The Tigers need to honor the restrictions and conditions that the cease-fire -- and future negotiations -- set on their arms supply. Logically, down the road, this is going to include disarmament issues themselves. Internal self-determination, within the framework of one Sri Lanka, is not going to be consistent with separate armies and navies for different parts of the country. For that matter, the LTTE has often pledged to stop the recruitment of child soldiers, but this time, they will have to prove they can carry through and will carry through on the pledge. The LTTE will also have to respect the rights of Muslims and Sinhalese living in areas under its control. And if the Tigers really want to join Sri Lanka's democratic society on a federal basis, they will also have to accept pluralism within the Tamil community.
Finally, the United States government is encouraged by the vision of the LTTE as a genuine political entity. But for that to happen, we believe the LTTE must publicly and unequivocally renounce terrorism and prove that its days of violence are over. The US will never accept the tactics of terror, regardless of any legitimate Tamil aspirations. But if the LTTE can move beyond the terror tactics of the past and make a convincing case through its conduct and its actual actions that it is committed to a political solution and to peace, the United States will certainly consider removing the LTTE from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as well as any other terrorism-related designations.
At the same time, the Government of Sri Lanka must institute reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people. This means allowing Tamils the simple right to stay in their own homes and to pursue a living, such as fishing in coastal waters, without prejudice or harassment. But it also means protecting the full range of human rights for all the people of Sri Lanka. In particular, the burden will be on the government, military and civilian officials alike, to prove that they can accord these rights to residents of the northern and the eastern parts of the nation, including the refugees returning to the area. And that they will hold officials accountable for their conduct.
The government obviously also must tackle key economic reforms. Because ultimately, the people of Sri Lanka, not just Tamils but also the Muslim and Sinhalese communities, particularly in the south, will judge the efficacy of the peace process by how it affects their livelihood.
Reaching this vision of prosperity will require a strong and sustained commitment from the Government of Sri Lanka. We should all give due credit to President Kumaratunga.
She knew this was the only answer for her country long ago. And her peace plan of 1995 was an important precursor to the progress we see now. Of course today, we owe much of that progress to the Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who continues to take bold steps in the direction of peace. But it is clear that if Sri Lanka is to continue moving forward, the Government must move together as one. No individual, no single political party can carry this burden alone. This must be a concerted effort by the President, the Prime Minister, and the parties.
There are those in Sri Lanka who remain skeptical, and truthfully, many come to their doubts honestly. The President, for one, is understandably cautious. But she also has unusual moral authority when it comes to one of the most difficult challenges facing both the government and the LTTE. As the head of state and inheritor of a powerful political dynasty, she is in a unique position to speak on behalf of everyone who serves or who has served in the government and to ask that those who committed atrocities in the past be forgiven. But she is also a victim of this conflict. She has not only lost loved ones to the violence but will personally bear the scars for the rest of her life. And so her forgiveness of those who have caused her pain is equally important.
In such a close community, every one of the 65,000 lives lost in the last two decades is a burden of memory the whole society will have to carry. Indeed, perhaps it is too much to ask for forgiveness, but the people of Sri Lanka must somehow find a way to move forward. This may be the most significant challenge. It will require a concept of justice that falls somewhere between retribution and impunity, which will be absolutely necessary if the country is to reconcile with the past and reclaim the future. I believe President Kumaratunga must play a spiritually significant part in this search for truth and for reconciliation.
These are tremendous challenges. But these are also largely questions of the political will of the parties involved, something that must come largely from within Sri Lanka. The Government of Norway does deserve tremendous credit for catalyzing this political will and ushering the parties to the negotiating table. And the Norwegians deserve even more credit for going one step further.
Today, Sri Lanka has pressing humanitarian needs, as well as longer-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reintegration needs. Consider, for example, that there are an estimated 700,000 landmines in the country, and that alone is a nearly insurmountable challenge. Yet this is precisely where the government and the LTTE need to show progress and ways for ordinary people to participate. And they have to do this right away if the peace process is to attract the kind of public backing it requires. But the scale and scope of these needs are simply beyond Sri Lanka's means in the near term. And that is one reason international support is so absolutely critical at this time.
In November, Norway hosted a conference to orchestrate this international support, and where the Norwegians led and where they lead, we, the United States, are delighted to follow.
I was pleased to attend on behalf of the United States and to pledge $8 million in support of programs that meet immediate humanitarian needs, as well as a little over $1 million for de-mining. In June, it is my intention to return for the follow-on meeting of donors, which Japan has graciously agreed to host. And at that time, I believe, with a certain assurance, that I will be able to announce significant further assistance to Sri Lanka for both humanitarian and economic aid.
Of course, such international involvement will come at a cost for Sri Lanka. The price tag for sustaining such interest will be progress -- a clear demonstration that all parties to the negotiations have the determination to see this through. As I said at the outset, the fundamental attraction for this outpouring of international interest and certainly for my nation, is that we are not dealing in fantasy but firmly in the art of the possible. By June, both the government, all elements of the government, and the LTTE will need to have made some hard choices and compromises that demonstrate the political will to proceed if they want to meet their ambitions for international support.
Of course, Sri Lanka is hardly the only nation that struggles in the shadow of looming ethnic, racial and religious divides. From Kosovo to Kabul, there are places all over the world that are engaged in a similar fight, many of which have far less going for them in terms of physical infrastructure, in terms of human resources, and in terms of the institutions of democracy. And as Ambassador Schaffer recently wrote, there are other nations, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, that have already dealt with such challenges with some measure of success. From my point of view, and from my government's point of view, it is reasonable to hope that Sri Lanka will not only be able to add to the legacy of optimism of such past success but will also be able to build a model for peace and prosperity in a multifaceted society.
Tezi [Schaffer], thank you so much. Mr. Ambassador [Subasinghe], thank you.
Fifty years ago the per capita income of Sri Lanka was at the same level as countries such as Taiwan and the Republic of Korea. We emerged out of colonial rule with a developing infrastructure and the foundations for an efficient public service and a strong education system. We were a multi ethnic, multi religious society poised to convert our new found independence and self confidence into economic success and prosperity.
Unfortunately today we are near the bottom of the Asian economic league with our economy in tatters, society divided along ethnic, class and religious lines. Our society is demoralised and our people have lost their sense of self confidence, our education system barely survives and post independence Sri Lanka has left a trail of lost opportunities. Indeed ethnic and cultural diversity which should be our
biggest strength was exploited by our politicians and projected as a weakness.
What caused our fortunes to change so tragically? The reasons are complex but they include bungled social engineering, a lack of social solidarity, chauvinism, political interference, and greed. The end result was that we lost our self confidence and a country which even Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore, referred to as a role model never realised its potential. In fact today Lee Kuan Yew refers to Sri Lanka as a country which can be used as a case study to learn from the mistakes.
Today we have the opportunity to start again. We have to address the root causes behind a twenty year war and a longer period of ethnic mistrust and bring hope back to a country where a majority of our people are in a poverty trap. They are also disillusioned with their political representatives whom they believe are only interested in their own selfish gains. There is no doubt that every Sri Lankan believes it is our last opportunity to get things right.
To do this we have to build a national consensus where all communities and political interests are properly represented within a united Sri Lanka. This is what our Prime Minister campaigned on during the General Election of 2001 and this is now what he is implementing.
Without the international community investing political and economic capital in this process it is doomed to fail. We are especially encouraged by the support of so many in the international community including the United States, India and Japan besides Norway which we all know is playing the critical role by facilitating the peace process. Even Asian countries like Thailand are playing an innovative role. Many in the international community now look to us as a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal international landscape.
During the latter part of last year Japan took a historic decision when the Cabinet of that country appointed Ambassador Yasui Akashi as a special envoy to assist Sri Lanka in the humanitarian and the economic aspects connected with the peace process and national reconstruction. Mr Akashi's appointment symbolises a new phase in Japanese foreign policy in which that country took a decision to get involved in a peace process prior to it reaching the post conflict phase. On the 9th and 10th of June this year Japan will be hosting an international donor conference on the reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Koizumi will be addressing this gathering himself.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's visit to the United States last year and his meeting with President Bush laid a new foundation for US/Sri Lanka co-operation. The signing of a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) at that time has created the basis for increased trade and investment cooperation between the two countries. In addition, visits by teams of experts to Sri Lanka to assess needs relating to the economy and national security have laid out the contours for future co-operation in these spheres. Visits by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca and Deputy Trade Representative Ambassador Jon Huntsman to Sri Lanka in the last year helped to develop a future roadmap for this important bi-lateral relationship. In this context a key milestone was the participation of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage at the special donor conference in Oslo last November.
The Prime Minister and his team have also been responsible for further broadening and deepening the bi-lateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka. India forms the cornerstone of our foreign, national security and economic policies. In the new globalised world the Prime Minister sees Sri Lanka as the economic hub for the Indian subcontinent. Symbolically the Prime Minister's first foreign visit upon taking office was for bilateral consultations with Prime Minister Vajpayee in Delhi. And Foreign Minister Yaswant Sinha's first foreign visit was to Sri Lanka. I have visited India on five occasions last year for both consultations on the peace process and also to move the bi-lateral agenda forward to further our Prime Minister's vision.
Initiatives in this direction include the proposal to convert the existing free trade agreement between the two countries into a comprehensive economic partnership agreement that would cover all spheres of economic activity. And an initiative to establish a land bridge linking the two countries as well as multi faceted initiatives to increase cooperation in investment, information technology, tourism, communications and surface and air transport. In the field of national security co-operation too Sri Lanka and India have made much progress over the last year.
In addition a decision to remove visa requirements for Indian tourists coming into Sri Lanka has resulted in many middle class Indians choosing Sri Lanka for their vacations. As a result tourists from India, earlier not considered to be worthwhile, have become one of Sri Lanka's most important market segments. The fact that India was one of the first nations to provide development assistance to aid our reconstruction effort is a concrete manifestation of this new phase in the Indo Lanka relationship.
Turning now to the conflict in Sri Lanka, for some years we had recognised that a new approach was needed. Just over a year ago we had the opportunity to do something different and entered into what could be long and protracted peace negotiations with the LTTE. After twenty years of war neither side could win through military means. This conflict could not have winners and losers. To succeed we had to have a win win outcome. We had to find another solution and opted for the negotiated approach. We were fortunate to have the support and attention of the International community for the first time. Before that ours was the forgotten war.
We entered the negotiations, as Kim Dae Jung, former President of the Republic of Korea said when he made his historic visit to North Korea with "a warm heart and a cool head". When I mentioned this to a foreign colleague of mine, he said: "add a deep breath to that as well."
Recent events in northern and eastern Sri Lanka have shown how important the deep breath will be.
Of course the warm heart refers to a genuine desire for peace. But that desire must also be tinged with the realism that we are nation building once more. Our task is to unite our multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country into one equal, fair and tolerant society. One within which each community has the freedom and flexibility to maintain their identity and realise their aspirations free of oppression and discrimination. If we do that then war will be a thing of the past.
The cool head relates to our need, after twenty bitter years, to keep up our guard. We have had ceasefires in the past and they have been broken. People have died unnecessarily because the government didn't keep up their guard. We don't intend to make that mistake again. We have chosen to keep our armed forces in place and to protect their integrity. We will not drop our guard until a peaceful solution is finally agreed.
In a sense of new found realism, neither can we expect the LTTE to drop their guard until a lot more trust building has taken place. So those in our country who demand that the LTTE hand over their weapons understand very little of the dynamics of these negotiations.
It was John F. Kennedy who said in his election address of 1960 that "It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war". As we have maintained our guard so the last year has been about trust building. We have succeeded in moving from mutual suspicion to mutual caution. In this context President Ronald Reagan's famous comment to General Secretary Gorbachev "Trust but verify" comes to mind. Much more of that has to happen before both sides can hope to say that peace is truly achievable. In that context the Permanent Ceasefire Agreement, signed on the 22nd February last year was a major breakthrough.
It was through the Permanent Ceasefire Agreement that we opted to 'take that deep breath' and with the help of the Norwegian Government to move the peace process forward. Right from the outset the LTTE and the Government took a pragmatic and proactive approach to trust building. Several joint mechanisms were set up to address areas such as immediate humanitarian support, resettlement, security issues, as well as women's issues. There have been problems. The Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission from the Nordic countries has been on the frontline of monitoring the ceasefire often risking their lives and on many occasions the agreement has been broken. Child conscription, extortion and allegations of arms smuggling by the LTTE have been areas for recent concern. But during the last session of talks these matters were discussed in depth with the LTTE. As a result the Government and the LTTE have invited UNICEF to help in developing a roadmap to end child conscription and to look into the area of welfare. We have also invited a former Secretary General of Amnesty International, Mr Ian Martin to advise us on developing a programme for the human rights aspects of the peace process. Intense discussions are taking place on the other issues that I have highlighted above.
As tempers are still frayed there have been other incidents on both sides. Nevertheless we continue to talk rather than fight. This is the important difference. Those incidents will take place and if both sides act responsibly and maturely we would hope to see the trust build and a decline in incidents both in number and severity. But the reality remains that we have a long and uphill road ahead of us.
One area in which we have to do a lot more work is to build a consensus between the politicians as well as civil society in the South, to seek to invoke a non partisan approach and to seek out new solutions to many long standing problems. It is important that we seek some level of consensus between the politicians before we take any peace proposals and solutions to the people for their approval. The Prime Minister is working hard to reach across that political divide and build agreement with politicians of all parties.
In the last year the road to peace presented many challenges and difficult choices. For example soon after the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement we had to deal with the issue of de-proscription of the LTTE. There was much debate on this issue. Many in the country did not believe that the LTTE had demonstrated enough sincerity to justify such a decision. But the bold step taken by the Government in this regard was a leap of faith which laid the foundation for the talks to begin.
As the film maker, Robert Altman, once said "You don't change people's ideas through rhetoric but by altering their way of looking at things. You will only get rid of war when you get rid of the pageantry surrounding it". Meanwhile some detractors are concerned as to whether the final solution will divide the country or not. Before the ceasefire if you were to go to the North and East you would have seen a country already divided. A country driven apart by boundaries between Government and LTTE held areas. A further consequence of our civil war was a traumatised society divided along ethnic lines. In the ultimate analysis Sri Lanka was a divided society both geographically and emotionally. With such an appreciation of the situation on the ground it becomes clear that what this Government and our Prime Minister are trying to do is to re-unite the country.
Nor must we forget that it was President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who initiated this peace process by bringing in the Royal Norwegian Government as facilitators to help us solve our conflict. And with good reason for they have a track record of helping warring parties across the world to come together and seek a peaceful solution. As we pilot a difficult peace process while seeking to engage in a fragile co-habitation between the Presidency and the Parliament that is held by two different political parties the Prime Minister has always sought to give due credit for the role of the President and the opposition in starting the peace process in this way. In every corner of our deeply divided society we must look for win win solutions and a zero sum approach can only divide us further.
Likewise the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission which is made up of people from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland has worked tirelessly and often in dangerous conditions to keep the Ceasefire Agreement on track. Those who were once suspicious of their role now quote their reports freely. Throughout this period we have had to endure those who were suspicious of the process. People who were frightened that the LTTE were deceiving us or who felt that their own vested interests were being undermined. Those detractors have had their case strengthened from time to time by events in the North and East. It serves the cause of peace little purpose to allow those incidents to continue especially if it gives the siren voices a foundation from which to build their case.
Of particular concern is the view that our armed forces take of such events. For twenty years they have had to face and fight the LTTE and amongst them the mistrust is greatest. Over the past year they have shown tremendous restraint and we applaud the way in which they have handled the most difficult of situations.But ultimately this peace process is about them. It is about seeking a way to end the war, to return them to a normal life where they can be with their families and to create a prosperous and peaceful society for them to live in.
Many of the families most affected by the war live in the North and the East where the level of destruction as well as disruption to normal life has been severe. Equally badly affected have been the families of the poor living in the South of the country. For that is where most of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and policemen and women come from.
As they have fought a bitter war the body bags were returned to families who were deprived of the very person who might have helped them rebuild their futures. Sri Lanka's war has been a poor man's war although many from the middle classes and the governing classes too have sacrificed their lives in this bitter conflict.
Today many question if their lives are getting any better. In one recent survey of people living in the South there were some disturbing comments coming from ordinary people. One person said that "We do not know about peace. We only know that the cost of living is going up." Another commented that "We do not even have the time to check on peace. We are struggling with the war of living."
Whilst another said that "We do not know what is happening in this country. The only thing we know is that we will not have anything to eat and drink finally." It is to this aspect of the Peace Process that I would now like to turn.
After twenty years of war our economy has been devastated. Although the economic statistics for the third quarter of 2002 look encouraging the economy grew 5.3% during that quarter from a negative economic growth in the previous year. Inflation has been brought down to 9.6% from 14.5% and the budget deficit from 10.9% to 8.9%. Much of the economic growth for this quarter came from the service sector. This includes the fact that businesses can now operate throughout the country when before nearly a third of the country was not available to them.
In addition tourism appears to have grown by around 86% and the telecoms sector by 16.5%! Unfortunately this growth is not evenly distributed throughout the country. In addition the stabilisation measures instituted by the Government with IMF support resulted in all global commodity prices being passed straight to the local consumer.
The cost of living has begun to rocket and the people are increasingly frustrated. Furthermore the transitional dislocations associated with privatisation, deregulation and reforms have begun to bite. The poor of our country who expected a quick peace dividend are becoming increasingly impatient and frustrated. The Government is committed to our ambitious reform programme. We believe that long term gains require short term sacrifices. However it is imperative that we show the poor of Sri Lanka some level of hope in order to inspire them to stay the course. The prospect of a war in the Middle East which would entail increased petroleum prices destabilisation in the tea market and a possible impact on foreign remittances from Sri Lankans working in the Middle East is a serious threat to our fledgling recovery.
In the North and the East the whole zone is littered with hundreds of thousands of landmines which have made farming a dangerous occupation. In the past for security reasons the fisherman were prevented from fishing. Many of the towns and villages were razed to the ground or at best badly damaged. The concerns of the people in the North and the East are now turning to the economic struggle to survive.
In the South many families have lost loved ones. The infrastructure is in poor condition and many of our families live on just a few rupees a week. Many of our children are malnourished and crime is on the increase as drugs and alcohol become the main source of comfort for a despairing youth.
Adding to this problem are the many hundreds and thousands of internally displaced people wishing to return to their homes in the North and the East. Whilst we have had some success in returning these families, many more have yet to be returned to their homes. It is against such a backdrop that the peace process has to find a way forward. If we are to succeed much relies on finding the elusive peace dividend that I mentioned earlier on which people can rebuild their lives.
Nevertheless in just a few short months we have shown that there can be economic development. Without that economic development peace will be harder to achieve. The people feel as though we already have peace and it is our job to continually remind them that as yet we still have a cease fire only. And so it is that they continue to ask why it is that after a year of peace they are not reaping the benefits. The people are impatient and we have to manage expectations.
The international community has played a critical role in keeping the peace process on track. Despite the inevitable distractions elsewhere in the world we need that engaged approach to keep both the Government and the LTTE clearly focused on moving forward.
We have to pursue de-mining in the war affected areas with real vigour. We must rebuild our schools and our hospitals. We have to return people to their homes and create real jobs for them to be able to feed their families. In the South we have to alleviate poverty and bring industry and businesses to the villages. And we have to do it now.
We do not shirk away from tackling these problems. But it is made more difficult because we do not have the expertise or the capacity to do these things alone. Many agencies have agreed to help us when peace returns to our land but that could be some years away.
But what we need is that support now for without it we cannot bring the much needed peace dividend to the people. That is why the Donors Conference in Oslo last November was so important to us and it is why the Donors Conference in Tokyo in June will be so critical to the Peace Process.
For our part we continue to work hard towards creating the right environment for peace. Our economic reforms are moving forward and we are opening up Sri Lanka to the rest of the world. The Prime Minister has instigated a reform package called 'Regaining Sri Lanka' which seeks to create two million new jobs, to control public debt, to reconstruct all of our country and to raise productivity. We will continue to pursue these polices vigorously and to bring hope to our people. In the coming months prior to the Tokyo conference we hope to provide a poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) with the IMF. This we hope will provide the framework for further donor assistance from the international community.
Meanwhile the international community must focus on three key areas of support:
As the focus of the world turns to other areas of conflict and uncertainty it should not be assumed that peace is guaranteed in Sri Lanka. Without continued world scrutiny and political support our peace process could easily slip backwards into war once more.
Then we need help to revive our economy. We need the experts and know how to help us. Also, the financial support to give us quick gains on the ground that will relieve the unease of the people. As we rebuild our infrastructure, our economy will grow more rapidly and we are determined to wean ourselves from that support that much more quickly.
And we need the continued support to attract world class businesses that will help our economy to grow and play its role in this globalised world. Improved market access for our products and services, especially to the US market where 41% of our exports ( valued at $ 1.9 Billion) are destined, will help us achieve the 8-10% growth that is required to take our country forward. In return we can provide a willing and eager workforce ready to take on the investor challenges thrown at us.
The task ahead of us is still daunting but the signs of hope are there. We can show the world that conflict can be resolved and people can live in peace in a multiethnic democracy where, free markets and private entrepreneurship flourish. Such noble aims can be achieved through resolve, partnership, hard work and understanding by us and the world community to regain Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the U.S. Devinda R. Subasinghe called upon all Sri Lankans resident in the US and US citizens with a special interest in Sri Lanka, to increase their activities and to leverage their capability towards servicing the Sri Lanka-US relationship in all its dimensions. He said the Embassy proposed to open an "ideas line" to hear their views and will also commence a program to provide internships to qualified Sri Lankan students at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington and the Consul General's Office in Los Angeles.
The Ambassador made these observations when he addressed the 55th Independence Anniversary Celebrations of Sri Lanka, held on Sunday 9th February at the Amphitheater of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington D.C. The ceremony organized by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington D.C., was attended by members of the Sri Lankan community of the Greater Washington area, friends of Sri Lanka which included several former U.S. Ambassadors to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Officials visiting the US including Major General Parami Kulatunga and Secretary, Ministry of Urban Public Utilities Ariyaratna Hewage.
The two hour ceremony, commenced with the unfurling of the Sri Lanka flag to the strains of the national anthem sung by children of the Embassy staff. The lighting of the traditional oil lamp followed, amidst the singing of Jayamangala Gatha by the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe.
This was followed by multi-religious observances and prayers. The Buddhist observances were led by the Ven. M. Dharmasiri Thera, Chief Incumbant of the Washington Buddhist Vihara and the Ven. K. Uparathana Thera, Chief Incumbant of the Wheaton International Buddhist Center. Hindu prayers were recited by Rev. S Viswesvaiam, Muslim prayers by Mr. Naseer Azeez and Christian prayers by Dr. Greg Fernandopulle.
Later the Independence Day messages by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga , Prime Minister Ranil Wicremasinghe and Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando were read by officers of the Embassy.
In his address, Ambassador Devinda R. Subasinghe outlined the objectives towards which he with his staff would direct their energies. First, to deepen and broaden the Sri Lanka-US relationship in all its manifestations- diplomatic, political, security, economic and arts and culture. Second, to elevate economic cooperation between the two countries and secure greater trade and capital market access for Sri Lanka in the US and a higher level of US investment in Sri Lanka. Third, to increase access to World Bank and IMF technical expertise and financial resources. Fourth, affording the highest quality of consular and information services and in adding value to the assets of the Embassy. In an open forum that followed, the Ambassador responded to questions and suggestions made by the gathering.
The event concluded with a cultural program, which featured dances - 'Kethaka Mahima' and ' Suragana Ladun', performed by the Junior and Senior dance troupes of the Ranga Kala Kavaya respectively, choreographed and led by Devika Wimalakantha and a dance featuring the ten divine incarnations of Lord Krishna, performed by Meera Arumuganathan.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
09 February 2003
Together with my colleagues at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C., I extend a warm welcome to all of you who have gathered here today to celebrate the 55th Anniversary of Independence of Sri Lanka. I do so with a deep sense of humility, having been associated with you as a member of the fast expanding Sri Lankan community in the United States over the past 25 years, during which I have studied and worked in the U.S.
Today we gather at a time of great expectation, both in developments in Sri Lanka as well as the trajectory of Sri Lanka-U.S. Relations. In Sri Lanka, there is a concerted effort to transfer the solution of the ethnic conflict and related issues that have plagued our country ever since independence, from the battlefield to the negotiating table. The on-going Peace Process has clearly demonstrated, that despite difficulties that may arise from time to time, the process has been placed on an irreversible path. Further, the overall economic development strategy as envisioned and articulated under the title 'Regaining Sri Lanka' focuses on the clear link between establishing a lasting peace and creating market conditions conducive to economic growth and entrepreneurship in order to regain and maintain economic opportunities lost as a result of continuing conflict. Needless to say, many challenges continue to lie ahead. How Sri Lanka negotiates these issues will be closely followed by the international community, who believe Sri Lanka provides a potential model in conflict resolution.
As for Sri Lanka - U.S. relations, the U.S continues to be the major trading partner of Sri Lanka accounting for 41% of Sri Lanka's total exports. Foreign direct investment from America has steadily increased and ninety American companies operate in Sri Lanka with an estimated investment of US$ 500 million. For decades Sri Lanka has been a recipient of development assistance from the United States. Educational and training opportunities for Sri Lankans in the United States has contributed significantly to our growth and development. In more recent years, our two countries have also developed a beneficial relationship in military and security cooperation. Particularly since the official visit to Washington D.C by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in July 2002, bi-lateral relations between Sri Lanka and the United States has become multi-faceted. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Deputy Trade Representative Jon M. Huntsman have undertaken visits to Sri Lanka, and the impact of these engagements with Sri Lanka has been reflected in both U.S. support to Sri Lanka's peace process, as well as in the augmentation of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) process aimed at liberalizing trade and investment between our two countries.
During my tenure of office it will be my endeavor to build upon the vast fund of goodwill and understanding which exists between our two countries. In doing so my colleagues and I at the Embassy look forward to working with the Sri Lankan community resident in the U.S.- cutting across ethnic, religious and professional lines. We do so conscious of the magnitude of the task. In reaching out through the length and breadth of this vast country, the relatively small but influential Sri Lankan expatriate community that has distinguished themselves in so many fields, remains our greatest asset.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
04 February 2003
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, the United States Government was closely following developments in Sri Lanka and was committed to support Sri Lanka not only by word, but also in terms of substance.
Secretary Powell made this observation when he welcomed Sri Lanka’s new Ambassador to the United States of America Devinda R. Subasinghe, who called on the US Secretary of State on Friday, 17th January, to present copies of his credentials. He was accompanied by Ambassador J.D.A. Wijewardena, Charge d’Affaires, a.i. This protocol requirement under the United States system precedes his formal presentation of credentials to US President George W. Bush at a formal credential ceremony to be held at the White House, at a date to be determined by the White House. With the presentation of copies of credentials, the Ambassador becomes the functional head of mission.
Welcoming Ambassador Subasinghe, Secretary Powell noted that the new Ambassador was no stranger to Washington D.C. and the United States. He wished him every success in this new appointment and observed that his familiarity with this country will help further strengthen bi-lateral relations.
Ambassador Subasinghe responding said he was honored to have the opportunity to be representing Sri Lanka in a country where he had studied and worked for over 25 years, and pledged that he would do his utmost to further a more enduring relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States. The Ambassador conveyed to Secretary Powell, the appreciation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe for the role played by the United States in support of the Peace Process and economic development in Sri Lanka. He also extended an invitation from the Prime Minister to Secretary Powell, to visit Sri Lanka. Secretary Powell recalled his short but pleasant visit to the island in 1983 with then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and Richard Armitage, the current Deputy Secretary of State. Secretary Powell said he was looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka once again.
An investment banker by profession, Ambassador Subasinghe, prior to this appointment was Vice President of the Florida based Ramond James Financial Inc. He holds a MA in International Economics from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and has previously served with the World Bank Group including the International Finance Corporation.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
17 January 2003