Honourable Speaker, 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. Mr Speaker, 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. Mr Speaker, 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.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on 12th and 13th May 2003 at the invitation of the Prime Minister. She is part of the delegation of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visiting Afghanistan, India and Pakistan and will visit Sri Lanka at the conclusion of those visits. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage will lead the US delegation to the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka to be held next month which is being co-chaired by the US. The present visit is a follow up to the successful Pre-Tokyo Seminar held in Washington in April 2003 hosted by the State Department. Ms. Rocca’s visit signifies the continuing support of the US Government to the peace process. This visit follows her earlier visit to Sri Lanka in March 2003. She will also discuss during the visit bilateral relations in the context of the deepening ties between Washington and Colombo. Ms. Rocca is scheduled to meet the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and members of the negotiating team including Ministers G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and Rauf Hakeem among others. Embassy of Sri Lanka Washington DC USA 02 May 2003
29th April 2003 Dr Anton Balasingham Political Advisor Chief Negotiator to the LTTE LTTE Headquarters Killinochchi. Dear Dr Balasingham, I write further to my letter of 22nd April 2003 in response to yours of 21st April, in which you had expressed your organisation’s concern in relation to some critical issues on the ongoing peace process. I must at the outset express my complete agreement with you that during the 14 months in which the Ceasefire Agreement has been consolidated as a result of the sincerity and determination shown by both sides, there has been substantial progress towards peace and development throughout the country. For instance:
  • The Ceasefire has held for a period of 14 months; the daily toll of dead and maimed combatants and civilians has been brought to a halt.
  • SLMM procedures have been strengthened and its activities and coverage expanded; critical situations which would earlier have led to conflict have been defused and resolved.
  • Places of worship and schools occupied by the Military have been handed over.
  • The Government and LTTE have established SIHRN an institution for decision making in which both have equal participation.
  • Through a joint approach by the Government and the LTTE to the Donors, a funding mechanism NERF has been established.
  • Some of the issues pertaining to the Muslims have been addressed.
  • Detailed study of Federal and Government structures has been undertaken by both sides.
  • The Joint Gender Committee has been set up.
  • Positive working relationships have been established between the parties at operational level.
  • The international Donors, both multilateral and bilateral, have already disbursed substantial funding (in excess of US$ 30 million) for humanitarian and rehabilitation work in the North-East.
Although it has not been possible to reach agreement on all matters our joint resolve to cooperate has provided the space and confidence for the international community to participate in rehabilitation and development. The 14 month period of peace has therefore been one of steady progress and hope to our people. Let me take up one by one, the various reasons which appear to have led your organisation to take what you have termed as a “painful decision.” 1. Exclusion of the LTTE from the Preparatory Seminar in Washington: As you would know, the Japanese Government suggested preparatory seminars in Washington, Brussels and Oslo prior to the Tokyo Conference. The Government of Norway later felt that it would forego this opportunity since the Oslo meeting last November had virtually served this purpose. Subsequently for various logistical reasons mainly connected with the Iraq crisis, the decision to hold a meeting in Europe was changed and it was proposed to have a preparatory meeting in Colombo in May. These arrangements were discussed at the meeting at Hakone. There were two other significant reasons for going ahead with the Washington seminar in April. The first, was the fact that such a seminar would enable the gathering of major Donors who would be present in Washington as participants in the important Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF. The other reason was that it was important to obtain commitment of the Donors to this process before their attention was absorbed by the needs of Iraq as a consequence of the situation following that conflict. The Washington preparatory seminar was not a pledging conference. The multilateral organisations present at the seminar announced their indicative figures under their Country programme at the meeting. The LTTE’s inability to attend the seminar was due to the fact that the organisation still remains a banned organisation under United States Law. I regret the LTTE could not participate and you will appreciate that the Government cannot be blamed for this situation. From the inception the Government was committed to working with the LTTE in rebuilding the North-East. In fact the Tokyo Conference offered by the Japanese Government as a pledging conference for the Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka took this fact into consideration. The Conference is to be opened by the Prime Minister of Japan. 2. The non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document: Both sides have obligations to fulfil the terms of the Ceasefire Agreement. While there has been increasing compliance, I agree with you that there is yet much to be done to implement fully, the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement. Our view is that both parties should commit themselves to doing so. The presence of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has undoubtedly helped in ensuring, to the extent possible, the observance of the Ceasefire in all its aspects. The final objective of course is normalisation of the ground situation. However in view of the fact that the conflict has been long drawn out, normalisation is bound to be a difficult process. Both sides I know, have been impatient at the pace at which normalisation has taken place and it would be necessary to renew our joint commitment to make progress. 3. The suffering and hardship experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils: The highest priority has been given by the Government, your organisation and the international community to alleviate the conditions of the internally displaced, as quickly as possible. We ourselves have pledged at the last election to (a) take steps to make life easier for the people of the North and East, and (b) solve the problems of people who have been displaced and rendered helpless by war. In fact there has been progress. The Government has taken substantial loans from the World Bank and ADB for re-settlement of internally displaced persons and the numbers have been reduced significantly. There is also the further question of de-mining of the lands in which internally displaced persons would be settling and an effective programme is underway with several international Donors committed to humanitarian mine action. Indeed the work of your own TRO and its humanitarian de-mining unit working in the Vanni in this endeavour, is highly appreciated. Of course there is much more to be done to make life better for the people. There have been delays in implementation due to the breakdown in Government administration as a result of the twenty year conflict. In the last few weeks we have been discussing the measures to strengthen the effectiveness of implementation and to establish an effective coordination mechanism for administration in the Northern districts – the districts worst affected by the war. The Government will keep the LTTE briefed on these proposals prior to implementation. We will also convey to you our views on making SIRHN more effective and look forward to reaching agreement on the modifications that are needed. As Mr Bernard Goonetilleke’s letter of 28th April 2003 would have informed Mr Tamilchelvan, we have formulated procedures to commence the 15 approved projects while the formal arrangements for NERF are being finalised. The Norwegian Facilitator will be apprising you of the manner in which we are overcoming this problem. 4. The aggressive Military occupation of Northern cities and civilian settlement: Ever since the Ceasefire, the policy of the Government has been to restore normalcy in order that the civilian population would be enable to carry on their customary livelihood. The visible signs of this are, the increased production in fisheries and the bumper paddy harvest that has been experienced in the recent Maha season in the Vanni. Though there are yet steps to be taken to reduce the constraints now necessitated by security considerations, the difference in people’s lives over the past year is I believe quite evident. The Government is committed, as I mentioned earlier, to resolve the issues of the persons displaced by war. Mr Austin Fernando, Secretary Defence by his letter dated 27th April 2003 informed Mr Tamilchelvan of the intention of the Army to release the two hotels in Jaffna town and the surrounding houses. Pre-fabricated buildings to house the troops have already been ordered. The Report prepared by General Nambiar on the Review of the High Security Zones, as mentioned in the Talks of 6th – 9th January will also be available when the Talks resume. 5. The marginalisation of the people of North-East in the macro economic policies and strategies of the Government: A careful reading of the “Regaining Sri Lanka” document which contains the vision and strategy for acceleration of development will indicate the degree to which conflict related development has been emphasised. Regaining Sri Lanka is the National Economic Policy Framework of the Government. Its objective is to achieve and sustain a high rate of growth for a decade or so which will enable (a) the creation of employment opportunities and (b) generation of sufficient economic resources for long term development of the North-East. The specific strategies and plans for promoting economic development in the North East will be worked out in consultation with the LTTE. There is no intention to exclude the LTTE from the process. One of the achievements for the Government and the LTTE was the ability to cooperate in commissioning the Multi Agency Needs Assessment to identify the reconstruction and rehabilitation requirements of the North-East. Once the two parties agree on this Report, it will become the official planning framework for the rebuilding of the North-East. Reference to the planning framework will be included in the Regaining Sri Lanka document. This planning framework will also be submitted to the Tokyo Donor Meeting in addition to the Regaining Sri Lanka document. In the face of these very positive developments, albeit not at the pace which we might have desired, it is extremely unfortunate that the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being. I am however, encouraged by the reiteration of your commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the question, and in furtherance of this, hope that you would, at this decisive time, review your present stance, and continue a partnership which has as you have conceded, already achieved considerable success. I believe finally this would be in complete accord with the firm desire of all our people that the peace process continues without interruption. With regards, Yours sincerely, Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
28th April 2003 Mr. S.P. Tamilchelvan, Head of the LTTE Delegation to SIHRN Kilinochchi,
Dear Mr. Tamilchelvan, Your letter dated 23rd April reached us while the Government delegation was preparing itself to attend the meeting of the Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN) scheduled for 25 and 26 April. In fact, the key issues highlighted in your letter had been included in the proposed agenda for the scheduled meeting. The Government delegation, which met for a pre-SubCommittee meeting, had already decided to propose alternative approaches to overcome the temporary constraints facing SIHRN. We were expecting to discuss these approaches with your delegation during the scheduled meeting. I am confident that you are fully aware of the reasons for the delay in finalizing the agreement with the World Bank relating to the North-East Reconstruction Fund (NERF), and that the Government is in no way responsible for that delay. Over the last few weeks the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) had been in contact with the World Bank office in Colombo on a regular basis with a view to expediting the resolution of outstanding issues. The World Bank has assured us that all agreements pertaining to the establishment and operation of the North-East Reconstruction Fund (NERF) would be completed within several weeks. The Government shares the sentiments expressed by the LTTE in this regard and is sensitive to the fact that donor contributions already committed to the NERF cannot be disbursed for projects approved by the Sub-Committee. In regard to this, the Government delegation, after extensive deliberation, had formulated an interim measure to enable the commencement of approved projects. These measures were to be discussed with you at the Sub-Committee meeting, which has been postponed. In light of this situation, we have requested the facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, to brief you on this proposal. You would appreciate the fact that a considerable number of projects would have been approved by SIHRN, had the meeting took place as scheduled. As the meeting has now been postponed, may I suggest that we jointly request Director SIHRN to go ahead with the preparation of estimates etc., in respect of those projects, so that all preliminary arrangements would be in place for them to take off the ground no sooner receiving the approval of the Sub-Committee. In relation to your comments regarding urgent action on resettlement of internally displaced persons and refugees, may I point out that the formulation of the Accelerated Resettlement Programme for the Jaffna District and the Resettlement Programme for the Mannar District, by the SIHRN Secretariat in collaboration with UNHCR, have been completed and was awaiting a decision at the next Sub-Committee meeting. On the pledges made by donor community at the Oslo Donor Conference in November 2002, the Director General, Department of External Resources has contacted the relevant donor countries to ascertain specific information on the quantum of funds they wish to provide to NERF. However, the postponement of the Sub-Committee meeting has caused the donor community to raise questions about the resolve of SIHRN to pursue rehabilitation activity, which is likely to cause further delays in securing funds. The Government, while regretting this development, will do everything in its power to persuade the donor community to make available resources already committed by them to SIHRN to continue its humanitarian and rehabilitation work. Yours sincerely, Bernard A.B. Goonetilleke Head of the Government Delegation to SIHRN
Current Trends in Sri Lanka: Making Major Headway in the Quest for Peace and Economic Reconstruction It gives me great pleasure to speak on the topic "The Current Trends in Sri Lanka" at the University of Pittsburgh, a university with a rich history that has evolved over the past 200 years. I am also delighted to note the university's Asian studies program, and the commitment of the Asian Studies Center to foster a better understanding of the East, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Dr James V. Maher, Provost, Senior Vice Chancellor for sponsoring this visit and hosting the wonderful luncheon with participation from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University; Dr William Brustein, Director, University Center for International Studies for sponsoring this event; Professor Richard J Cohen, Associate Director, Center for Asian Studies for coordinating the visit; and Dr. Vijai Singh Vice Chancellor representing Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg for the invitation to address the students and faculty at this prestigious University. It gives me great pleasure to be here today. I look forward to working with the Asian Studies Center to incorporate Sri Lanka in the university curriculum as well as to facilitate educational exchanges between the students of Sri Lanka and the University of Pittsburgh, to promote educational, social and cultural relations between the universities as well as relations between our two countries. Today, I come to you bearing good news on current trends in Sri Lanka from different fronts -political, economic, legal reforms and democratic governance, and tourism. Politically, we are a nation forging and building peace with our Tamil brothers within our borders. For over two decades, ethnic conflict raged in Sri Lanka, ravaged the country, and weakened the economy. But last year, we committed ourselves to lasting peace through political dialogue and economic reconstruction and we achieved a major breakthrough in securing the peace - the Government of Sri Lanka together with the Government of Norway as facilitator, as well as the Governments of the United States, India and Japan, embarked on peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Over the past 15 months, the Government of Sri Lanka has been pursuing a negotiating strategy with the LTTE to arrive at a peaceful solution. The Government recognizes the need to involve the international community in the quest for a durable and lasting peace. While the role of the Japanese Government has been primarily that of economic development, the U.S. Government has been directly involved in the peace process and reconstruction of the country. On 14th April 2003, Deputy Secretary of State Mr. Richard Armitage hosted a seminar in Washington D.C. to drum up international political and economic support for the peace process. This seminar was attended by high level representatives from the European Union, Canada, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, China, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, India, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the United Kingdom, an indication of the wide support of the international community led by Norway to achieve a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict. The seminar will be a good segue to the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka to be hosted by the Japanese Government in Tokyo, Japan in June 2003. The meeting in Washington discussed the need for development and reconstruction assistance and how this may assist in consolidating the ceasefire and reinforcing the peace process in Sri Lanka. The reconstruction and development efforts would focus on five areas in need of immediate attention: locating and neutralizing one million landmines scattered in the nation, rebuilding whole towns and villages, providing shelter and simple agricultural equipment to an estimated one million displaced persons, rebuilding and refurbishing schools, and securing jobs for displaced people impacted by the war. This week, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam announced their decision to suspend the peace talks with the Government of Sri Lanka, but added that they were still committed to a negotiated end to the conflict. Understandably, the process of achieving peace will not be an easy task, but will require time, commitment and effort on the part of both parties to reach a lasting solution. The United States is completely backing up Sri Lanka's quest for peace. President Bush deeply understood our situation when he said during his acceptance of my credentials in February: "We both know it takes courage and determination to fight a war. As the peace process in Sri Lanka reaches a stage where difficult issues have to be addressed and real compromises have to be made, it becomes clear that it takes no less courage and no less determination to pursue peace. Let me assure you that the United States wholeheartedly supports Sri Lanka's efforts to transform violence and bloodshed into peace." On good news on the economic front, Sri Lanka was one of the first South Asian countries to introduce free market economic policies in 1977, thus fully integrating itself into the global economy and the international regimes on trade, finance and investment. The Sri Lankan Government introduced liberal trade policies, low tariff levels, privatization, encouragement of foreign direct investment, and the liberalization of capital accounts. All these efforts have been intensified over the years to increase foreign trade flows and capital movement which have resulted in the expansion of health and educational facilities, better housing and greater access to consumer goods. The close ties between the U.S. and Sri Lanka underscores the important economic, trade and investment ties between our two countries. The U.S. is one of Sri Lanka's main export markets and biggest trade partner with exports in 2002 amounting to US $ 1,810 million and imports from the United States totaling US $ 171.9 million. We are committed to deepening and broadening the relationship between our two countries encompassing the diplomatic, political, security, cultural and economic areas to secure greater access to U.S. markets for our exports, access to capital markets and to increase the level of U.S. investment to Sri Lanka. The government is committed to continuing the process of achieving greater market access in developed and developing countries, an important requirement to sustain our development efforts through economic reform and economic development efforts to put the economy on a path of sustained high growth and move the country to become a regional trade hub in South Asia, as well as to attract U.S. investments in sectors such as infrastructure, the Information Communication Technology (ICT) industry, shared services/call centers and back office operations. Recently, the U.S. and Sri Lanka concluded a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed between the U.S. and Sri Lanka in July 2002, which provides a structure to discuss bilateral and multilateral issues relating to Sri Lanka and the U.S. Sri Lanka is one of a select number of Asian countries and the only South Asian country with which the U.S. has signed such an agreement. This arrangement provides for expanded economic relations between the US and Sri Lanka and would further accelerate economic reform in our country. This may also be considered the first step towards a possible Free Trade Agreement with the United States. In addition, Sri Lanka has also signed a Free Trade Agreement with India, which has resulted in bilateral trade reaching US $ one billion and Sri Lanka's exports to India increasing from 70.8 million in 2001 to 176.7 million dollars in 2002, thus reducing the balance of trade that favored India. A Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan and also with the countries of the regional grouping BIMST-EC, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand is also underway. As a result, the 18.5 million domestic market of Sri Lanka has expanded into a 1.1 billion market, and investment figures over the past year has indicated a total of $240 million in investments, the highest in ten years. Today, Sri Lanka serves as the economic gateway to a vast regional market in South Asia, especially India. The Sri Lankan Government has embarked on a "Regaining Sri Lanka" program of economic recovery and development that seeks to increase economic growth and reduce conflict-related rural poverty. Plans are also being implemented to strengthen rural infrastructure and improve access of the poor to quality education and health services. The key elements of this program are infrastructure development including road construction and repair and increasing power generation with the aim of making Sri Lanka a transport, logistics and financial hub for the Indian Sub-continent. The program also aims to establish a strong information and communications technology sector, improve education and health care delivery systems, increase agricultural productivity, bolster fisheries and small businesses; environmental preservation; tourism and eco-tourism promotion, and public sector reform. The recent approval of US $ 567 million credit for Sri Lanka by the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Executive Board is an indication of the organization's support for this effort and for the government's peace negotiations. This also recognizes the need for donor financing to support economic initiatives required to strengthen the peace process and rebuild the nation. Tangible results of this program include a return to economic growth of 3.5 to 4 percent last year and a decline in the rate of inflation from 14 percent to 9.5 percent. Continuing on the good news track, we are continuing efforts for legal reform and strengthening democratic governance. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest practicing democracies with a tradition of democratic governance, independent judiciary and free press. In April 2002, the government repealed the Criminal Defamation Law which was part of the substantive criminal law of Sri Lanka, to develop an environment for a fully liberalized media functioning without fear of repercussions. This is a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to uphold democratic rights and fundamental freedoms. The policies to develop the social infrastructure and social benefits have resulted in a high degree of success in the fields of health, nutrition, education and social welfare and the best socio-economic indicators including life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, literacy and near universal primary school enrollment in all of Asia. Tourism is one of the major industries in my country, and I would like to share the good news on this sector. Sri Lanka is known as a prime tourist destination throughout the world. The rich cultural and historical heritage of the island offers a fascinating experience to the visitor from archaeological sites dating back to before 247 BC, to unique ecological sites such as the rain forests of Sinharaja, to wildlife parks, captivating tropical beaches and the wide array of water sports. The places of interest include the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, the rock temple at Dambulla, the Fort at Galle and the citadel kingdom of Sigiriya that have been designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO and the rain forest at Sinharaja, one of the biodiversity hot spots of the world. The national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines has won the award for the best Airline of the year in Central Asia for the third consecutive year. This consolidates our airlines' position in Asia's international airline industry. In the recent past, with the climate of peace, the country has seen an increase in the number of tourist arrivals, an increase of 23.4% for the month of February 2003 in comparison to February 2002 when the peace negotiations commenced. As you can see, there are a lot of positive developments in my country, and there are numerous reasons to feel more hopeful about our future than in many years. When I met President Bush, he told me something I find very encouraging. He said, "Sri Lanka stands out as an island of optimism in this troubled world." It is our pleasure to do so. Recently, the President also noted that, "Sri Lanka has enormous economic potential, which has been impeded by war. Now, with peace on the horizon, with bold economic reforms being put in place, and with a literate society and an educated workforce, Sri Lanka stands on the threshold of prosperity." Current trends in Sri Lanka do indicate that we are on the threshold of prosperity - a prosperity for our people and our children's children and together with all Sri Lankans, and the help and support of the international community and the United States, we are indeed on our way. Thank you very much.
22 April 2003 Dear Friends, With the first anniversary of the permanent Ceasefire Agreement, I wanted to write to you to tell you a little about the Peace Process and what I see for the future of Sri Lanka. It is now over a year since the fighting stopped in our twenty-year war. That should be a cause for celebration as many lives have been saved in the process. I think it important to stress that as yet we do not have peace; nevertheless we have a ceasefire which is giving the parties time to talk and try to resolve their differences. I won't go into the reasons behind the conflict, but I would say that it is the aim of this Government to create a free, fair and equal society where everyone, whatever their religion or ethnicity, can live in peace and prosperity. I should also stress that it is our clear position within the negotiations that we wish to create one nation from what is at present; a divided country. The LTTE understand that and so do most people. However, some people are suggesting otherwise, I hope that if you hear any suggestions to the contrary that you correct them immediately. Nevertheless, we have many challenges along the way. I do not anticipate that peace will come quickly. We have much work to do, to rebuild trust between the two sides in the conflict. That is what we have spent much of our time doing over the past year. Whilst I acknowledge that the Ceasefire Agreement was not a perfect document, it has given us the opportunity to stop the killings and to talk. Had we aimed for a perfect document it could have taken months, even years. Whereas what we have is a working document that starts the process of building understanding on both sides, whilst obliging both sides to do certain trust-building measures. There have been infringements of the ceasefire agreement and that is a cause for concern. What we need to do and are doing, is to tackle each of those infringements in the peace negotiations and to find ways of resolving those problems. Questions such as child conscription and extortion have to be dealt with; and in the recent talks, the LTTE gave an undertaking to deal with these matters with the help of UNICEF. We have spent much time talking about rebuilding our country after the war. In the North and the East we have a shattered economy. We have to resettle nearly one million people, rebuild their homes, remove the mines, and provide schools and hospitals for the people once more. Nor do we intend to neglect the South where poverty is a very serious issue. In the South, we also have to build the infrastructure and create business opportunities. The economy is closely tied into the peace process. For without peace we cannot rebuild our economy; and without a strong economy, peace will take longer to achieve. That is why we have embarked on a programme called "Regaining Sri Lanka" which will put in place the mechanisms to create a strong and prosperous country for the future. I am sure that you, along with many other people, are impatient and want to see improvements happen quickly. However, if we are to build a lasting peace and a prosperous nation we have to plan carefully. The last year has been one of taking a fallow field and preparing it for the crop. Today we are in the process of sowing the seeds, and in the next year or so I am hopeful that you start to see some of the benefits. There is much that I would like to tell you about, but this short letter does not allow that luxury. I am sure that you also have many questions. If you would like to know more about the peace process then please contact the Peace Secretariat (see below for contact details) and they will try to answer your questions. Meanwhile, please be assured that your government is working hard on your behalf to create a peaceful and prosperous country once more. Yours sincerely, Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister P.S. Please show this letter to all your friends and family.