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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2620

Sri Lanka Foreign Minister expressed hope international community will recognize the change taking place in the east

Colombo, 13 March, (Asiantribune.com): Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama addressing members of the Colombo based Diplomatic community on Wednesday said, “through the elections concluded on Monday Sri Lanka has continued to show to the local and international community that this government has a plan and will deliver on its promises to restore normalcy in the areas affected by the present conflict.”  Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the Government of Sri Lanka is thankful to the international community for having been partners in the process of restoring normalcy in the East. It is hoped that this exercise will serve as a model in post-conflict development to other parts of the world facing similar situations. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the Government of Sri Lanka is thankful to the international community for having been partners in the process of restoring normalcy in the East. It is hoped that this exercise will serve as a model in post-conflict development to other parts of the world facing similar situations.

Describing the poll “as an important milestone in the government’s policy of restoring democratic rights to the people in areas that were previously dominated by the LTTE”, the Minister said it also heralded “the transition of the TMVP into the democratic political mainstream”. “Successful conclusion of this election also augurs well for the planned Provincial Council elections that will follow”, the Minister added.

He expressed the hope that “the international community will recognize the significance of the change taking place in the East politically, economically and socially and that further assistance will be forthcoming for the completion of this task”.

Given below the full text of speech by Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the members of the Diplomatic Corps :

Today I thought of inviting you to the Foreign Ministry to exchange views in the aftermath of the local government elections in the Batticaloa District, which both process and election itself has taken place without any significant incident.

You would recall that addressing you on 4 January 2008 in the aftermath of giving notice on the termination of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) I made clear that “the termination of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) does not in anyway hamper the process of moving towards a negotiated political settlement,” and “that infact it gives broader space to pursue this goal through an inclusive process which includes all minority groups of Sri Lanka.” I observed that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, “while dealing militarily to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from our land, will spare no effort in our bid to arrive at a practical and sustainable political settlement”.

With the proposals of the APRC presented on 23 January 2008 we took the first step in this regard. After 20 years, Sri Lanka made a commitment to see that the 13th Amendment of 1987 was to be fully implemented to benefit the areas it was most intended to serve. This was a first step in a continuing process for greater devolution of power, with the objective of achieving a final and durable political settlement.

Through the elections concluded on Monday Sri Lanka has continued to show to the local and international community that this government has a plan and will deliver on its promises to restore normalcy in the areas affected by the present conflict. The Batticaloa Local government elections which were contested by 9 political parties and 22 independent groups who fielded 831 candidates, saw a turnout of 161,749 electors accounting for around 60% of the 270,471 registered voters exercising their franchise. It is 14 years since voters of these areas were able to participate in a local government election. The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) has won eight of the nine local bodies which polled while the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the Batticaloa Urban Council.

The completion of the elections is significant in several respects;

Firstly, it is an important milestone in the government’s policy of restoring democratic rights to the people in areas that were previously dominated by the LTTE.

Secondly, we are seeing the transition of the TMVP into the democratic political mainstream.

Thirdly, the successful conclusion of this election augurs well for the planned Provincial Council elections that will follow this May in the entire Eastern Province as recommended by the 23 January 2008 proposals of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).

It must be remembered that the elections held on Monday would have been inconceivable a year ago if not for the successful clearing of the East of LTTE terrorism and the restoration of normalcy. It is also noteworthy that these military operations were conducted with great care to ensure minimal disruption to civilian life. Other than for a single incident where civilians were killed when the LTTE fired mortars from their midst, there were no reported incidents of civilian casualties. Sri Lanka has proved through its Eastern operations that terrorism can be defeated with far less damage to civilians than in any comparable situation.

Since the eviction of the LTTE from the Eastern Province, the Government has embarked on the Nagenahira Navodaya Programme (Reawakening of the East) under which it has restored civil administration, resettled IDPs, provided immediate infrastructure development, and encouraged private sector participation and promotion of industries in this region. The immediate areas of focus include agriculture & irrigation, roads, power and energy, livelihood support, fisheries and livestock development, education, civil administration, health & sanitation etc.

This program is an integral part of the National Development Plan, including mega infrastructure projects which are aimed mainly at improving the connectivity with other regions. These projects are expected to create new opportunities in the regions boosting economic activities in the region, particularly the promotion of private sector investments.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have acknowledged that the voluntary resettlement of IDPs in the East has been undertaken in keeping with international standards. In the Eastern Province, most IDPs have returned to their homes and the remainder will be resettled, after clearing the remaining areas of landmines. The Government, with the assistance of the WFP, provides food rations to the displaced families and returnees.

Arrangements for improvement of the law and order situation in the East is also underway. New police stations have been established while existing stations are being strengthened to provide a better service to the community. 2000 Tamil speaking police officers are being recruited to serve the province, of which 175 Tamil police officers including 50 women police constables have already been recruited and trained and deployed. Restoration and strengthening of the civil administration is underway with the provision of office buildings and recruitment of new staff, especially those who are competent in Tamil.

These measures are in line with the recommendations of the APRC, which has called for the full implementation of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution on Language. These include the recruitment of Tamil speaking Police officers in sufficient numbers to enable Tamil speaking members of the public, not only in the North and the East but in the country as a whole, to transact business in their own language in Police stations. Other steps include recruitment of staff and procurement of equipment to enable the Tamil speaking public to deal with Ministries, Government departments and other public bodies in Tamil as well as the regular holding of mobile clinics where officials who are competent in Tamil, will be able to assist in solving the problems of Tamil speaking people.

The Negenehira Navodaya programme has been implemented with the assistance from the international community, the UN agencies as well as international and local NGOs. The cost was borne for the Negenahira Navodaya programme with local and foreign funding.

The Government of Sri Lanka is thankful to the international community for having been partners in the process of restoring normalcy in the East. It is hoped that this exercise will serve as a model in post-conflict development to other parts of the world facing similar situations.

The Government hopes that the international community will recognize the significance of the change taking place in the East politically, economically and socially and that further assistance will be forthcoming for the completion of this task.

- Asian Tribune -

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