Hon. Ravi Karunanyake, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Hon. S.B. Dissanayake, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon Gamini Jayawickrame Perera, Minister of Irrigation and Water Management, Hon. Keheliya Rambukwelle, Minister of Science and Technology participated in the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, which was held in Sacramento, California, the USA from June 23-25. 2003. Agricultural and other ministers from more than 120 countries attended the Conference, which focused on how science and technology, in a supportive policy environment, can increase agricultural productivity, spur economic growth and help alleviate world hunger and poverty. The Conference was participated by some 60 ministers of agriculture, 26 ministers from the areas of natural resources and environment, 18 ministers of science and technology, 12 ministers of commerce and several from health and education ministries.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture organized the Conference which was co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Hon. Ann Veneman US Secretary of Agriculture first announced plans for a science and technology conference in June 2002 in Rome at the World Food Summit.
The theme of this conference was the critical role science and technology can play in increasing agricultural productivity in developing countries in an environmentally sustainable way to alleviate world hunger and poverty. The Ministers who participated at the Conference and Technology EXPO had the opportunity to see first hand an array of exhibits and product demonstrations including conventional to cutting-edge technologies geared to small-scale and large-scale enterprises, with applications throughout the food chain. The Ministerial Conference provided perspectives on world and regional issues related to the areas such as: Allocation of Resources for Agricultural Research and Development, Attracting Foreign and Domestic Investment in the Agricultural Economy, Addressing Post-Harvest Challenges through Technology Transfer, Food Security and the Promise of New Technologies, The Challenge of Limited Water Resources and Policy Implications.
The Ministerial Conference discussed a broad range of issues such as; Increasing Access to Technologies, Agricultural Production, Processing, and Marketing Technologies, Overcoming the Technology Divide in Developing Countries Trade Capacity Building, Improving Competitiveness with Information Technologies, Public-Private Partnerships to Improve Market Infrastructure and Agribusiness Linkages In closing the conference, Hon. Veneman, US Secretary of Agriculture said that the road to solutions will involve a rearranging of priorities to address the most critical areas and recommended several priority areas including: Strengthen education and agricultural research; Enhance partnerships and international cooperation to help make scarce resources go farther; and Facilitate the benefits of technology through supportive policies and regulations.
The conference offered Sri Lankan Ministers an opportunity to focus on what science and technology can do for farmers and consumers. The conference also provided a forum to identify needs, share ideas and discuss policies, partnerships and strategies to accelerate technology transfer and local research and development to boost agricultural productivity.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
23 June 2003
Ambassador Subasinghe being greeted by Admiral Thomas B.Fargo (Commander U.S. Pacific Command)
Ambassador Devinda R. Subasinghe accompanied by Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy completed a successful visit to US Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii from 11-14 June. The result of an earlier visit by Hon Milinda Moragoda, Minister of Economic Reforms, Science and Technology in November 2002, the delegation also comprised of Brigadier Rohan Jayasinghe, Defence Attaché for Sri Lanka in the US and Captain Shirantha Udawatte of the Sri Lanka Navy.
Ambassador Subasinghe and the delegation had a series of meetings with US Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, Commander Pacific Command and many other senior flag rank officers including Admiral Walter Doran -Commander Pacific Fleet, General William Begert – Commander Pacific Air Force and Major General Craig Wheldon – Deputy Commander of the Pacific Army.
Ambassador Subasinghe, General William J. Begert (Commander U.S. Pacific Air Forces) and Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri,
Commander Sri Lanka Navy at the Honors Ceremony accorded by the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces
Pacific Command, situated at Camp H.M.Smith is responsible for more than 50 percent of earth’s surface, approximately 105 million square miles (nearly 169 million square kilometers). From the west coast of the US mainland to the east coast of Africa, including the states of Alaska and Hawaii. It encompasses nearly 60 percent of the world’s population and includes 43 countries (including Sri Lanka), 20 territories and possessions and 10 US territories.
U.S. armed forces conduct joint training exercises with their Sri Lankan counterparts as a regular feature with Exercise BALANCE STYLE being the largest. Port calls by US naval vessels have become frequent. In March 2003, the US announced the transfer of the US Coast Guard Cutter “Courageous” to the Sri Lankan Navy.
Pacific Command is also home to the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies (APCSS) which provides academic training to over 20 senior Armed Forces and Police officers from Sri Lanka on an annual basis. Invited to deliver a speech at this prestigious institution, the Ambassador spoke on “Securing Peace in a Troubled World : The Case of Sri Lanka and its Quest for Peace”. The speech which was well received, traced the roots of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the progress made in the peace process underwritten by the US and international community.
The visit also focused on current and future mutual co-operation and training with US Armed Forces and covered other related issues.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
18 June 2003
On a map of the world Sri Lanka is small even seemingly insignificant. Yet this conference today demonstrates that we have many significant friends across the world deeply committed to the restoration of peace in my country.
Not least the Japanese nation to whom we are highly indebted for hosting this conference. My thanks go, in particular, to the Prime Minister of Japan His Excellency Junichiro Koizumi for organising the conference and for so graciously attending today. I would also like to thank Her Excellency Yoriko Kawaguchi Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Ambassador Yasushi Akashi Japan’s Special Envoy for Peace and Development in Sri Lanka. Their continued support and inspiration reflects our friendship with the Japanese people which goes back many decades. It is one that I hope personally will grow ever deeper in the years to come.
I would also like to thank the United States for their support both as a co-chair of this conference and for their backing of the pre-conference seminar in Washington. The importance the United States places upon this conference is evident by the presence of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
That we should have two more co-chairs from the European Union and from Norway further demonstrates how fortunate we should count ourselves.
Although there are many friends of Sri Lanka in this room today I must make special mention of the work of the Royal Norwegian Government in their role as facilitators of the peace process. They have an international reputation for such work and every day they demonstrate their commitment to peace. Although there must be moments when they would like to feel a little more appreciated by some of the people they seek to help. For our part we look forward to their continued participation as facilitators in this important process.
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, 18 months ago the people of Sri Lanka gave a mandate to a new Government to recapture lost opportunities. They charged us with the job of solving some serious challenges.
At the time of independence we were a literate, prosperous and peaceful country and in many respects setting the pace in Asia. Many countries in South East Asia talked of emulating Sri Lanka as they built their own economies.
Today we are no longer the nation we were. But the people of Sri Lanka are courageous and determined. They will tolerate a lot. Nevertheless they had grown weary of the lack of success of our country. Being below par was not good enough for them. So they set us the task of delivering in three critical areas.
The first was to lay a foundation for a lasting peace. We had become a divided nation filled with ethnic hatred and bitterness, a nation at war destroying itself and its people.
The second was to rebuild an economy which was on its knees. The people recognised that our whole economic way of life had to be restructured and reformed. Nor could the economy sustain an expensive and meaningless war any longer. We had to place ourselves in a position where we could compete and prosper in the newly globalised world.
The third was to resolve the problems of a deeply politically divided society. One where over the past fifty or more years the political gap has widened. Where consensus between the political parties was more words than deed and where elections had become increasingly violent and discordant.
Unlike previous elections the people went further by electing a new government with an incumbent President who was leader of the Peoples Alliance. They gave a loud and clear signal that they wanted the political parties to bury their differences and start working together.
In the Peace Process the role of the President had been significant. In a courageous move it was she who had started the process and had appointed the Norwegians as facilitators. Today we appreciate the way in which she continues to support the peace process in principle. It is with such support that we persist in working on building bridges of understanding.
When we took office the rationale behind our thinking on the Peace Process was based on humanitarian needs. We decided that to wait for a political settlement before rehabilitating the North and the East was unacceptable. The hatred and distrust between the two sides was too deep seated and would take years to resolve. We agreed that whilst negotiating, if the funds could be found, we should try to give back the lives to our people in those war torn areas.
This was, of course, a high risk strategy because in peace processes elsewhere donors had always wanted to see a peace agreement before committing funds. It was even more high risk because with every peace process there are ups and downs. There would be times when the talks reached an impasse and progress would be slow. Then how would the donors react?
We are in one such impasse at the moment. The timing is unfortunate but I believe that progress has been sufficient over the past fifteen months since the Permanent Ceasefire Agreement for you the donors to see that both sides are genuine about the ultimate outcome.
That the LTTE are not here today is a matter of sadness because the ultimate losers could be the people of the North and the East. Especially since this conference was to be a partnership effort between the LTTE and the Government. However I believe that the peace process is mature enough for you to see that we can and will move forward very soon. An encouraging sign is the way in which contact is still being maintained at grass roots level and the opportunities for trust building continue.
By now you will also have recognised that this is a responsible government. One which will continue to find innovative ways to look after all the people of our country regardless, and that very firmly includes the Tamil people. We will work for the development of the North East in partnership with the LTTE. We also have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of all the communities in the North East
When the Peace Talks start again then of course we have to continue the process of finding an ultimate solution almost certainly within the framework of a Federal state. Bearing in mind our determination to deal with humanitarian issues from the very beginning we have looked at ways of delivering a reconstruction, redevelopment and rehabilitation programme.
The actions of the LTTE in the past few weeks has demonstrated what we too were realising. It was clear that the structures we had put in place were too cumbersome and too distant from the people to be acceptable or to react quickly enough. The people needed a much faster response than the Government was able to deliver.
We designed a new structure with the multilateral agencies and the donor community. We did this for two good reasons. The first was that we could see the donor community were as frustrated as the Government and the LTTE at the lack of implementation. The second was that from the very beginning we had realised that any solution to our particular problems were resolvable only with the widest possible involvement by you the donor community. Regrettably, so far, we have not managed to reconcile our proposals with the thinking of the LTTE.
Whilst talking about the donor community I would like to thank those agencies who put so much time and energy into preparing the North East Needs Assessment paper. This project was prepared through a partnership between the Government, the LTTE and the International Community. The delivery will also be implemented through a partnership between the parties. The United Nations, The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank who have graced this conference have worked tirelessly on this assessment. I know that they will be presenting their findings during the course of the conference.
Meanwhile it is clear that much political work still has to be done. The North East Needs Assessment gives us the opportunity to carry forward the programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. With your commitment of the resources needed to carry out this programme we can bring much needed relief to the people of the North and the East. We want to use that money in partnership and cooperation with the LTTE to see all our communities benefit in this war torn area.
Meanwhile the differences between us over an administrative structure are not that far apart.
In Oslo both the government and the LTTE jointly agreed a significant statement and I quote:
“ ... the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities”
It is now important that we develop a roadmap with milestones to get there. In this context we would need to set up an innovative provisional administrative structure. It will be responsible for the Reconstruction and Development of the North East and the administrative aspects of the transitional process. It will have to achieve the following objectives:
Ø to be efficient, transparent and accountable;
Ø safeguard the interests of all communities in the North East;
Ø enable the LTTE to play a significant role;
Ø and not to be in conflict with the laws of Sri Lanka
The powers of this provisional administrative structure will include,
rebuilding the war damaged economy;
providing effective delivery of essential services
so as to uplift the lives of the people.
In order to move forward, it is of vital importance that a Muslim delegation should participate in the Peace Talk to articulate the concerns of the Muslims.
We will introduce constitutional reforms when we have negotiated a final political solution, which we are fully committed to take to the people of Sri Lanka through a referendum for the ultimate decision.
In addition, given the lack of confidence between the two sides it is essential that the international donor community identify ways and means through which they could meaningfully underpin this process. It is important that we now think introspectively of the way forward beyond Tokyo and as to how the donor community can stay engaged. Tokyo marks the end of one phase and the beginning of another in Sri Lanka’s search for peace and economic reconstruction.
In the next few days, at the end of our deliberations it is important that all of us present here re-dedicate ourselves in a resolute manner and with renewed vigour.
This Government will continue to do its best to approach the problems with sincerity and determination and with full consideration of the wishes of the people. To do anything less would be to derogate our responsibility to the people.
Moving to the economy, at the time of independence our economy was top of the Asian economic league table. Today it is at the bottom. Eighteen months ago we took on an economy that was close to collapse. For too many years as a nation we had plucked the fruit from the tree before the tree had grown.
We had to take hard decisions. The people had suffered much poverty and hardship over the years and to do nothing would have resulted in a worsening of their living standards. The one good piece of news was that our social indices were much better than in many countries. The imbalance was between the social indices and the economic position. For this reason we were able to put in place a policy which, in the short term is deeply painful, but which in the long term will re-stabilise our economy.
You will all understand that this is not the politicians dream position. As politicians we like to give the people what they want, but for us the choices were limited. The state was running too many antiquated, inefficient and overstaffed institutions. This coupled with the costs of conflict diverted resources away from essential services such as education, health and housing. We were living beyond our means.
Reinstating a strong fiscal policy was imperative yet painful. Reforming and liberalising the economy was necessary. Creating the environment to allow our entrepreneurs to compete in the global market place was a must. But most significantly it was essential that we brought jobs and prosperity to all our people.
Around two thirds of the economic activity of Sri Lanka is conducted in the Western Province where about 5.4 million of our 19 million people live. Elsewhere in the country the infrastructure is poor, the facilities are poor and our people suffer from poverty.
That is why we instigated the Regaining Sri Lanka programme. For many reasons our people in the South have suffered in unique ways to those in the North and the East. But the suffering is no less painful.
That is why we seek your help in the short and medium term in the North and the East. To rebuild our war-torn areas through the North East Needs Assessment. Whilst in the medium to long-term we rebuild the whole of our country through ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ to give the lives back to the people who have suffered so much.
We are not looking for hand outs, rather for a hand up. With your help we hope to have the resources to rebuild our country and turn it into a prosperous and modern society where poverty is reduced to the minimum and where our people can live comfortably.
The third issue on which I touched earlier was the question of the politically divided society. Ask any Sri Lankan and they will tell you that they are embarrassed by the conduct and the antics of some of the politicians. Elections have become opportunities to offer everything to everyone. Political promises always outweigh the ability to deliver. Elections have also become violent affairs where all too often Government used the mechanisms of state to ensure re-election.
The bitterness and rivalry between the two main political parties has spilled over on many occasions in the past. When a new Government has come in to office, or should I say power, good professional people have been thrown out of jobs to make way for political appointees. Not so with this Government.
So change is in the air. Opposition should be responsible in its approach. Yes they should question Government, even make them feel uncomfortable. They should oppose on matters of principle or policy. But to oppose simply to bring a Government down is to betray the people and to destabilise an already precarious system.
Government too has to be responsible. They should be honour bound to consult through Parliamentary procedures. They should allow the opposition time to question and to probe. They should seek to involve the opposition in the decision making process wherever possible.
With recent announcements I hope that we are starting to do that. We are bringing in opposition members to chair and run oversight committees that will scrutinise the work of the Government. We are also freeing up the media and opening up Government to the scrutiny of the people.
For my part I seek to inform and consult with the President as widely as possible. I believe our regular discussions continue to probe the ways of seeking greater consensus between two leaders from different political parties.
I hope that we can build on these and bring dignity and honour back to our political system. It will, nevertheless, be a long hard road to change attitudes and approaches.
On one issue I publicly request the support of all our politicians. Seeking to resolve the Peace Process should not be a partisan matter. War and the resolution to peace should not become an opportunity to destabilise a Government. To do so is to betray the people and to put lives in jeopardy. The end result could be too horrific. I urge all of our politicians to put aside their differences on this one matter and to support the Government in finding the way forward to a lasting peace.
I would like to turn to one final issue that is of great concern to many of you, overcoming the problems that have hampered our ability to implement the foreign assistance that has been provided in the past. It is fair to ask, Why does Sri Lanka need a significant increase in assistance if we are not sure whether it can be utilized effectively?
The shortcomings in the implementation process are one of the key impediments in our negotiations with the LTTE. They must be overcome if we are to build a lasting peace and provide the improved economic opportunities and substantially reduce poverty throughout Sri Lanka.
The Government has taken a number of important steps to improve the system for project implementation and we have made significant progress during the last 18 months. But there are fundamental problems with the system that cannot be overcome with procedural patches. Our public service is too large, too poorly paid and lacks the capacity to handle the increased rates of project design and implementation.
So today I can tell you that the Government is introducing a completely new organization that will also incorporate the External Resources Department. It will be responsible for all of the tasks of implementing foreign funded projects. It will ensure a timely and professional tendering process. And it will have the ability to bring in the best qualified individuals and firms from outside government to manage and implement projects. Transparency and accountability will be significantly improved.
This new system will provide the basis for substantial improvements in the utilization of the assistance necessary for the reconstruction and rehabilitation in the North East and the other conflict affected areas. It will also provide the foundation for the economic transformation of Sri Lanka that will raise incomes and reduce poverty throughout the country.
We know that these changes will not be easy, nor will they be popular with everyone. There are some that have a stake in the current approach. But the stakes for Sri Lanka are too high not to take these necessary steps and to do so quickly. This new system can be in place before the end of this year and then it will be implementation, implementation, implementation.
However, to design and introduce this new system in the next seven months, will require the active support and cooperation of the donor community. We will, for example, need guidance in identifying the most efficient procedures and international best practices. We will also need assistance in training and equipping the staff that will operate this new system.
So in your deliberations over the next two days I hope you will see that we demonstrate the determination to see this project through.
On peace we shall never give up and our sincerity will never be in doubt. On the economy we are pushing ahead with our plans and our resolve is clear for you to see from our actions in the last year. Politically we face many challenges but we are dealing with each in a systematic way. On implementation our own frustration is driving us to seek innovative solutions.
For many years now I have had a clear view of the sort of Sri Lanka I wish to see. One where the people are living in a free, tolerant, peaceful society. One where everyone shares in the benefits of a prosperous economy and one where the values of our culture can shine through for the world to see.
Eighteen months ago and at the start of my premiership I spoke to our people that the challenge of the Government was to grow a garden of fresh flowers in a field of thorns.
For the sake of our children let the flowers blossom once more.
With your help I know that we can deliver.
At a Conference sponsored by the Institute for International Economics (IIE) titled "Free Trade Agreements and US Policy" Ambassador Robert Zoellick, United States Trade Representative (USTR) mentioned Sri Lanka as a potential candidate for a FTA with the United States.
He stated that the Bush administration will accelerate its bilateral and small country/regional approach to liberalise global trade, especially if the WTO "Doha Development Round" talks stall. He mentioned ASEAN countries as a possibility and also identified the Middle East, the Dominican Republic and Columbia as potential candidates. This statement follows the signing of the first FTA with an Asian country when Prime Minister Goh and President Bush signed the US-Singapore FTA in Washington, D.C. on May 6, 2003. Following Zoellick's comments President Bush offered on Friday May 9, 2003 a US-Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013 as an economic incentive to that region.
Ambassador Zoellick elaborated that four key criteria are being used to identify candidates for potential US FTA's- 1. progress on economic reforms 2. support for US positions in global trade negotiations including the Doha Round 3. support for US foreign policy objectives, 4. impact of a FTA on overall regional integration.
"The mentioning of Sri Lanka as a potential candidate is significant in that this is the first indication for a FTA in South Asia. With 41% of our exports (primarily apparel and garments) worth US$2 billion destined to the US market, this is very significant for our industry" said Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the United States, Devinda R. Subasinghe. "This is the outcome of significant progress made within the US-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed during Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to Washington to meet with President Bush in July 2002."
Meetings of the US-Sri Lanka Joint Council were held in Colombo in November 2002 and in Washington in March 2003 co-chaired by Deputy United States Trade Representative Amb. Jon Huntsman and Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Hon. Ravi Karunanayake with the participation of Minister of Enterprise Development, Industrial Policy and Investment Promotion and Constitutional Affairs, Prof. G. L Peiris. Council meetings have advanced significantly trade, commerce and investment relationships between the two countries. Avenues for greater market access, including a possible FTA were discussed at these meetings. The recent award of a 100 mw power plant to a US corporation, Caterpillar Power was an outcome of the TIFA process.
Minister of Economic Reform, Science and Technology Hon. Milinda Moragoda met with Ambassador Zoellick during his visit to Washington to co-chair the April 14 US-hosted Pre-Tokyo Seminar. Minister Moragoda used this opportunity to discuss ways to build on the success of the TIFA process and to move forward towards an FTA.
"The importance attached to the US-Sri Lanka political and economic relationships indicates that the US takes the economic relationship very seriously and Ambassador Zoellick's statement clears the way for the government and industry to realize the potential of Sri Lanka's candidacy" said Ambassador Devinda R. Subasinghe.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
10 May 2003
During a recent visit to the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, on an invitation to deliver a speech on "The Current Trends in Sri Lanka", Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the US Devinda R Subasinghe addressed a wide gathering of academics, students and members of the Sri Lankan Community. In the context of Sri Lanka's increasing importance in South Asia and increasing US interest in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Subasinghe proposed that Sri Lankan studies become an integral part of the University curriculum in the Asia Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Ambassador Subasinghe referred to the commitment of the University's Asian studies program to foster a better understanding of the East, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific and also expressed the wish to facilitate educational, social and cultural exchanges between the students of Sri Lanka and the University of Pittsburgh.
In his speech, Ambassador Subasinghe also summed up the positive trends in Sri Lanka in the political, economic, legal, democratic and tourism realms. Observing that the economy of Sri Lanka had been ravaged by two decades of ethnic conflict, Ambassador Subasinghe referred to the country's commitment to achieve a lasting peace through political dialogue and economic reconstruction and stated that together with the assistance of the governments of Norway, United States, India and Japan the country had achieved "a major breakthrough in securing the peace" by embarking on peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Referring to the positive relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka, Ambassador Subasinghe commented on the recently concluded Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed in July 2002 and the important economic, trade and investment ties between the two countries. He observed that the United States is Sri Lanka's biggest trade partner and comprises one of Sri Lanka's main export markets with exports in the year 2002 amounting to US $1,810 million and imports from the United States totaling US $ 171.9 million. He also commented on the economic reform and economic development efforts to move the economy to a path of sustained high growth and the Sri Lanka government's "Regaining Sri Lanka" program of economic recovery and development that includes increasing economic growth and reducing conflict-related rural poverty, strengthening rural infrastructure and improving quality education and health services, in order to make the country "a transport, logistics and financial hub for the Indian Sub-continent".
The Ambassador met Dr. James V. Maher, Provost, Senior Vice Chancellor and Dr. Vijai Singh, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh as well as Dr Christina Gabriel, Vice Provost of the Carnegie Mellon University where the possibility of conducting programs in Sri Lanka on education and Information Communication Technology as well as technical collaboration on the e-Sri Lanka program with the Carnegie Mellon University were discussed. Ambassador Subasinghe and Mrs Subasinghe also participated in the annual Sinhala Tamil New Year dinner hosted by the Sri Lankan community at the University of Pittsburgh.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
08 May 2003
On the 21st of last month (21st April 2003), Dr Anton Balasingham, Political Advisor and Chief Negotiator to the LTTE, addressed me a letter in which he informed me that the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being, giving reasons for doing so.
I replied Dr. Balasingham, on the 29th of April 2003 responding to the concerns he had raised. I am tabling for the information of Parliament both Dr. Balasingham’s letter and my reply.
I would like to point out to the House that as indicated in Dr. Balasingham’s letter, the LTTE was suspending their participation in the negotiations for the time being. It was not giving notice of an end to negotiations, nor were they making a statement that they were going back to war. In fact, Dr. Balasingham in other statements he has made on the matter has been categorical that this was not an indication of resumption of war and that their commitment to seek a negotiated political solution remained. I can state too, that in the opinion of our friends the Donor nations, with whom we are in contact they see no prospect of a resumption of war.
Members of the House will be aware that interruptions of this nature in peace processes have occurred before in our country and that this is the second interruption we have experienced. In the peace processes of other countries too suspension of negotiations from time to time is not uncommon. You will recall Honourable Speaker that in my statement to Parliament on the coming into force of the Ceasefire Agreement on 22nd February 2002, I said that the road to peace was going to have more pitfalls and setbacks than successes.
Let me recall the background in which the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and the LTTE was initiated. At that time, the two parties had not formally met and the ground work was prepared by the Norwegian Government. We have had several months of talks and some considerable progress has been made. The people’s yearning for peace has been fulfilled and there is now an absence of war. In fact a new environment has evolved. We might even say that we have progressed faster than we envisaged at the time we set out on this journey taking up issues not contemplated in February 2002. For example, the LTTE were agreeable to our suggestion relating to the preparation of a comprehensive document in respect of human rights applicable to all stages of the negotiating process and including suitable provision regarding monitoring and enforcement. There was, moreover, explicit agreement relating to a political resolution of the ethnic conflict by means of sharing of power based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The very progress that has been made has been a catalyst for the emergence of fresh issues. We are now at a stage when it is evident that substantial progress has been made in respect of the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement, and we move forward into a further phase of the evolving process. Our aim at this time is to keep the process going and continue to be on the alert. The important thing is that there is no question of going back to war.
Permit me to identify what the real issues are at this time. Firstly, there is the question of sharing of resources. The whole economy which was run down by two decades of war has to be kick-started. The Regaining Sri Lanka is our strategic framework for the long term economic development of Sri Lanka. One of the objectives for high growth mentioned in this document is to generate resources for the long term development of the North-East. The fear of the LTTE is that all the resources we get will go to the South. At the same time, the people in the South fear that all the moneys will go to the North. Neither of this will happen. We decided to assess our requirements both in terms of the needs of the North-East and what we required in the medium term for the Regaining Sri Lanka strategy. Therefore, we did not hold the usual Donor Conference last year. Instead the Royal Norwegian Government convened the Oslo Conference last September, where the Donor nations decided to pledge aid for emergency assistance. It was at Oslo that it was decided to call the Tokyo Conference to pledge aid for the development of the whole country including the North-East.
The LTTE has a role in the rebuilding of the North-East. The Oslo meeting delineated this role and the part the international community will play in it.
In Tokyo, we will have, the Needs Assessment Report on the North-East, and the four adjacent Districts done in consultation with all stakeholders, the Regaining Sri Lanka and a bridging document before the Donors. We expect to receive the funding which would make both these objectives realisable.
In the meantime, in our interaction with the Donor community, we have taken up our immediate and medium term needs. I am pleased to record, we are well on the way to raising the development assistance we require for this purpose. I am optimistic that the international community both through bilateral and multilateral means will make available an amount of around one Billion Dollars a year for the next three years, which is our estimated requirement to attain the national development goals. I would also inform the House, that with regard to immediate support for the North-East, three Multilateral agencies, the UN system, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have determined the amounts required for the North-East and the adjacent four Districts in consultation with both parties. Of course, it must be realised that as is usual, all of this is not going to come in one tranche and will be available at different points depending on our capacity and performance.
The second general issue I would like to refer is, how to make life easier for the people living in the North-East. The major issue of the North-East is that of the Internally Displaced. At the time of the Ceasefire Agreement, the number of families displaced was approximately 200,000. Today, that number has been greatly reduced. As of April this year, 75,000 families have voluntarily re-settled. To help them integrate in the community, we have increased the Unified Assistance Scheme from Rs. 15,000/- to Rs. 25,000/- per family. Already, about 10,000 families have received the increased UAS support. In addition to making land available which would involve clearing of 2 million landmines, there are some major issues in respect of resettlement. One of these is, that of title to land where legal challenges in Courts by claimants can delay the process and the Government will have to pay large amounts as compensation. We are obtaining the advise of the Attorney General on this question.
Another of the major problems we are facing is that of building capacity in the administrative machinery in the North-East, which has been run down over the years. It was an administration only able to barely supply the day-to-day requirements of the population, like providing rations for people in welfare camps; it was not geared to development. There had been no recruitment of officers for years. In fact the Mullaitivu District Secretary has no office or residence. What we inherited was an administration without the capacity for development work. This was the basic reason for the inability to move forward rapidly in implementation. The institution of SIHRN, (the Sub committee for Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs) was therefore a crucial one for commencing immediate development work. We are currently working out new mechanisms to co-ordinate the work of the Central Government Agencies and the North-East Provincial Council. This would call for the strengthening of SIHRN.
Normalisation of civilian life is another issue which has received priority. This necessarily involves the High Security Zones and the manner in which the military and security concerns have to be balanced with humanitarian civilian needs. As the security situation improves, the military presence will be less needed. When normalcy returns the large presence of troops in Jaffna will not be necessary and the stationing of troops will be as it is in the rest of the country. National security concerns will of course be taken into consideration at every stage. In moving forward in this area, the question of timing is critical when humanitarian and security issues are balanced. Just as the views of the civil society are being made available, so will we need the advice we get from the armed forces. There have been some issues which continue to remain unresolved. For example, in Jaffna city, moving out of the Five One Divisional Headquarters and the Five One Two Brigade Command Headquarters from Subash and Gnanam Hotels and some houses in the vicinity to the Jaffna Fort. That matter as the House knows, is still awaiting resolution. Since there seems to be some misconception in the public mind about this matter I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the position and to state categorically to the House that the proposed relocation does not amount to any change whatsoever with regard to the High Security Zone, in Palali, but is limited to arrangements within the city of Jaffna.
As regards the High Security Zones and de-escalation we have obtained relevant expertise from India. General Nambiar, one time Commander of the UN Forces in Bosnia, and present Director of the United Services Institute of India, is the Advisor to the Government in regard to the process of de-escalation. He will come to Sri Lanka today bringing his report. He will meet the President, the Minister of Defence, the Commander of the Army and me.
A recent issue which has arisen in regard to disengagement of forces is in the seas The SLMM is addressing the issues, and the two parties have been asked to respond. In this context we have obtained the services of Vice Admiral P J Jacob, former Vice Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy to advise the Government on issues relating to the sea. I think the House will be happy to know that he will also be arriving in the country today. These issues will take some time to discuss and move forward to agreement .
And finally, we have to obtain compliance with the Ceasefire Agreement. We need to consider the whole issue of human rights, and the fulfilment of Human Rights norms in its various manifestations. In this connection one major issue that has arisen is the recent assassinations of intelligence operatives and political activists. I would also like to inform this House that the Police and the Armed Forces have been instructed to take all necessary steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes.
The Government accepts the need to address the concerns of the Muslim community in the North-East. Firstly, we have to arrange for the Muslim delegation to meet soon with the LTTE to work out the modalities for a Muslim Delegation to take part in the plenary discussion. It is an imperative requirement at this stage of the deliberations that a delegation articulating the aspirations of the Muslim community should have the opportunity of participating at discussions relevant to the Muslims at the plenary sessions.
There are also the future political arrangements for the North-East to be dealt with - in fact the core issues. As we move on from the Ceasefire Agreement, the Government is open to having wide ranging discussions on the many issues that are represented here – especially regarding the extent of devolution of power and the units of devolution. We will in consultation with all parties proceed to develop a Road Map towards this objective. This will set out with clarity the sequence in which the substantive issues will be addressed in the unfolding process, so that the objective sought to be accomplished and the means by which this goal will be reached, becomes apparent.
I would like to conclude by keeping the House informed of the current steps we are taking to bring about a situation where negotiations could be resumed. As I have said before, the safety-net of the international community which we have brought about is being of great help to us at this time. We have had a firm expression of views by our friendly countries, including the United States, UK, Japan, France and India.
Our facilitator and friends have been very active during this period speaking with interested parties. As we recognise the issues that have emerged between the parties, we have been strengthened in our resolve to approach this issue in a practical manner. The international community whose goodwill is abundantly at our disposal is engaged in a professional exercise of shuttle diplomacy which has already begun to show promising results. For example, Mr Erik Solheim of the Norwegian Delegation has been meeting Dr Balasingham. There has been contact between Mr Vidar Helgessen and the LTTE leadership. In regard to India which is always a relevant factor, Minister Milinda Moragoda has paid a visit to Delhi and been in contact with the Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha and Brijesh Mishra, Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister. So have the Members of the Norwegian Delegation and Japanese Delegation. Last Sunday, I had meetings with the Norwegian and the Japanese Delegations. I could tell you that Mr Helgessen met Dr Anton Balasingham yesterday and Erik Solheim will be meeting Dr Balasingham on Thursday. I will be meeting the Norwegians again on their return from the Vanni. The Foreign Minister of Norway, Jan Peterson will be visiting us soon and Christina Rocca from the United States will be here next week. Overall, the Norwegians are dealing with the peace process, while the Japanese are focussing on the Tokyo Conference.
All of this opportunity will be made use of for further discussions. We have also made known the current situation to all of the interested partners such as to all members of the international community and they too would be using their good offices to see that the process is re-commenced as early as possible. On behalf of the Government, I can assure you Mr Speaker, I will be keeping the Party leaders informed of the developments as they occur.