Sri Lanka's progress remarkable after ending a bitter conflict- G.L. tells London audience
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris held a London audience enthralled with a short, crisp speech that encapsulated Sri Lanka's remarkable progress in less than four years after the defeat of LTTE terrorism in May 2009.
Prof Peiris was speaking at a reception held at the Sri Lanka High Commission to celebrate the country's 65th Independence Day and attended by members of the House of Lords and the Commons, ambassadors and high commissioners, officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, heads of Commonwealth organizations and other NGOs, businessmen and investors.
The Minister stressed that no other country that has emerged from years of internecine strife and terrorism has achieved what Sri Lanka has done in such a short time. He urged his audience to keep this fact uppermost in mind when evaluating Sri Lanka's performance.
He said that the country faced tremendous multiple challenges. Among these challenges was to provide food, shelter and medicines for nearly 300,000 persons displaced from the conflict areas. There were thousands of ex-combatants who had to be rehabilitated and returned to society. There were child soldiers of the LTTE who had to be helped and returned to their families.
In addition there were hundreds of thousands of mines and other explosive devices that had to de-activated and removed so that displaced persons could return safely to their former homes and the land put to productive use.
Destroyed infrastructure had to be rebuilt and the government invested enormous funds to resuscitate the economy of the war- ravaged areas so that the people would have a means of livelihood for them and their families.
Prof Peiris said that Sri Lanka is opening up to the world. New harbors and airports are under construction. British Airways will return to Sri Lanka shortly after a lapse of over a decade. Korean Air will begin flights to Colombo.
All these are indications not only of the elaborate steps taken by government at considerable cost to enhance the life and livelihoods of a conflict-affected people but to rescue from the clutches of terrorism what might well have been a lost generation.
Today, youth in war- ravaged areas have returned to school and some of them are competing successfully with students from the more privileged colleges. Sri Lanka is developing fast the technical skills of the youth so they may contribute their knowledge and expertise to today's technological society.
He pointed out that the enormous State- investment in the conflict- affected north is paying dividends. The economy there has grown by 22% and 27% in the past two years while growth in the rest of the country was around 6-7 %.
Prof Peiris urged British parliamentarians and foreign diplomats to factor in all these achievements when they look at Sri Lanka. He invited them to visit Sri Lanka and gain firsthand experience of the development without being guided by hearsay and vindictive reporting.
He said a nation takes time to return to normalcy after nearly three decades of terrorism and secessionist war. Reconciliation and rehabilitation are a slow process as other countries that have gone through similar experiences will understand and appreciate. These challenges cannot be answered and resolved overnight. They take time and a nation needs space to do so. Sri Lanka is urging that it be given the time and space.
Sri Lanka is ready and willing to work with the international community to achieve these ends. But this cannot be achieved if its efforts at peaceful resolution of its problems are met with constant vilification and castigation by a few in the international community.
Referring to the Commonwealth which is headquartered in London, Prof Peiris said it must be remembered that this is a voluntary organisation of 54 member-states with diverse cultures, ethnicities and value systems. It cannot be a monolith.
If a few member-states attempt to turn such an organisation into a political tool in pursuit of their own agendas, it would not only damage the ethos that the Commonwealth represents but also threaten the very future of the organisation.
- Asian Tribune -