Building bridges that had been burnt…
Excerpts of Minister of External Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera’s
response in Parliament on Friday (June 12) to questions raised by
Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva, on talks between the GTF and
the TNA in London
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 15, 2010 having held wide ranging
consultations with all communities across the country, made a series of
They said: “Terrorism and violence have ended. Time and space have
been created for healing and building sustainable peace and security so
that the fruits of democracy and citizenship can be equitably enjoyed by
all Sri Lankans. To this end, the success of ending the armed conflict
must be invested in an all-inclusive political process of dialogue and
accommodation so that the conflict by other means will not continue…”
In its recommendations, the Commission emphasized the vital need for
the Government to constructively engage with Diaspora groups, especially
those who may harbour adversarial attitudes, to find space for them to
contribute to the local reconciliation and development efforts.
The Commission recommended “the Government must have more liberal
policies and attitudes towards those expatriates who wish to invest and
work in Sri Lanka, for instance, by making it easier to obtain dual
nationality status, effect remittances and be able to travel throughout
the country without undue restrictions.”
They went on to say the “Government must take initiatives to
constructively engage its development partners in Sri Lanka and abroad
to develop a self-reliant, future oriented community in the Wanni, with
open minds to build on and sustain reconciliatory community
relationships. This is an area where the Sri Lankan ‘Diaspora’ can
support the Government of Sri Lanka, working in cooperation with the
development partners in areas such as housing, schooling, healthcare and
The Commission further recommended that the Government “constitute a
Multi-disciplinary Task Force to propose a program of action to harness
the untapped potential of the expatriate community and to engage them
constructively with the Government and other stakeholders involved in
the reconciliation process.” The LLRC warned that if such an approach is
not adopted urgently, the momentum towards creating a hostile atmosphere
could grow, and those groups that advocate such a process would continue
to promote polarization that will significantly impair the genuine
efforts of others who espouse reconciliation back home in Sri Lanka.
This is a summary of the wise advice given by the Lessons Learnt and
Reconciliation Commission during the previous administration with regard
to dealing with the Diaspora.
The Government at the time refused to heed the wise advice, although
this advice evolved through a process of internal consultations with the
public of this country, reflecting their views, their needs, their
observations and experiences. Similarly, the Government at the time
refused to heed the advice of many friendly nations overseas.
That unfortunate way of dealing with issues led to the polarisation
of society within our country. And, Sri Lanka became isolated among the
community of nations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was tasked by the previous
Government, with implementing the recommendations of the LLRC Report
relating to engaging the Diaspora, was unable, at that point, to
implement those recommendations.
As this House is aware, the people of this country voiced their
opinion loud and clear on January 8 and decided to initiate change. Over
81 percent of the registered voters in Sri Lanka from all parts of the
country including the Northern and the Eastern provinces exercised their
People in the North, who previously boycotted Presidential elections,
came out in large numbers to participate in this election. They did so,
even as a few urged them not to vote. What better manifestation could
one seek from the people of the North and the East, of their commitment
to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of this nation? It
could be said this is the first time in our country’s history that we
have a truly Sri Lankan leader, who has been elected through the votes
of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of race, religion and language.
The peaceful change of Government that the people of Sri Lanka
achieved through the ballot was hailed as a triumph for democracy not
only in Sri Lanka but all over the world.
It is based on this mandate given by the people to President Sirisena,
to build a new, united, peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, in which
ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity is respected,
celebrated and valued, that I function as the Foreign Minister.
It is based on President Sirisena’s policy of giving priority to
engagement and dialogue and renewing partnerships that I have been
carrying out my work as the Foreign Minister.
Our aim is to ensure that (a) this country and its people do not,
once again, become isolated among the world community (b) this blessed
nation does not plunge back into conflict and violence once again (c)
that the people of this nation regain their lost dignity once again and
stand with pride among the democracies of the world and (d) the people
of this nation are able to benefit from the best in every field the
world has to offer and achieve sustainable progress and development.
I have been spending all my time since becoming the Minister of
Foreign Affairs, to build bridges that had been burnt during years of
confrontation since the end of the conflict in 2009.
I have been working tirelessly with the staff of the Ministry and the
Sri Lanka Missions overseas to re-establish ties with countries that had
alienated us over the years and with sections of the Sri Lankan
Diaspora, who have left this country to live overseas.
In this task, I am guided by the wisdom of the Recommendations of the
Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs has been entrusted to implement.
As I said before, this task of dealing with the Diaspora was assigned
to the Ministry during the previous administration. The Sri Lankan
Diaspora consists of over one-and-a-half million. They are hardworking,
talented and responsible individuals in their respective countries.
There are some, who are extremely skilled and have excelled, in their
respective fields – sports, arts, music, literature, drama, academia,
medicine, science, and a variety of other fields.
Can we, at a time when this country has undertaken this important
journey of ‘reconciliation and development’ to build an inclusive
society, as the President stressed on May 19, leave out from this
journey, those who want to join us and help us after many years of
trauma and conflict?
Should we not make this the moment to shun from our minds, the
feelings of hatred, and narrow parochialism, which engulfed us in
violent conflict for over 30 years? Should we not make this the moment
in our history, to show, that we remain true to the words of the Buddha,
whose message was brought to us by the children of the great Emperor
Ashoka, who, having fought many a battle, and realized through
experience that no true victory can be achieved through hatred and
violence, chose to embrace non-violence and compassion?
Should we not embrace this moment to demonstrate by our actions that
“hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world”? Should we let
another opportunity at true reconciliation slip through our fingers and
deprive generations to come of enjoying true peace, stability, progress
and development that they deserve? Our aim should be to embrace all
Diaspora, the Sri Lankan Diaspora, irrespective of ethnicity or
religion, who are committed to support our reconciliation efforts,
capacity-building, development and welfare of the people while pledging
to uphold the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our
This is a unique moment in our nation’s history and we should use
this opportunity to reach out to the Sri Lankan communities overseas who
have the potential to help us in this journey of peace, reconciliation
In fact, as a result of our discussions and our efforts, it is most
likely that the Diaspora groups who were previously hostile to Sri Lanka
would issue a declaration renouncing violence and committing themselves
to work towards a united, undivided Sri Lanka.
Answers to the specific questions raised by
the Leader of Opposition
Q: Can the Minister state the
objective of the discussions that he held in London with the Global
Tamil Forum for which the media gave immense publicity? What was the
objective of these discussions? What were the decisions reached? What
were the issues discussed?
* As the Press Statement issued by the
Member of Parliament from the TNA (M. M.A. Sumanthiran) and the Director
of Strategic Initiatives of the GTF (Suren Surendiran) indicated, very
clearly, what was discussed were:
*the needs of the displaced people,
providing for their housing, providing basic facilities so that they
could resettle in the lands that have been returned to them,
*the release of prisoners held under
the PTA and the process that is currently underway,
*the annual review of the persons
listed under gazetted regulations 1758/19 dated 15th May 2012 and 1760
of 31st May 2012 (by the previous Government) to give effect to UN
Resolutions 1373 and 1267.
This annual review is mandatory as per
the regulations that have been gazetted by the previous Government.
Q: The persons and
organisations that took part in the discussion
(2)The persons who were present at the
*Member of Parliament from the TNA
*Representative of the GTF MSuren
*A representative of the Office for
National Unity and Reconciliation – M.S. Jayasinghe
The following representatives were
present on the basis of the large Diaspora communities living in those
countries and to share the experiences they have of dealing with the
different Sri Lankan Diaspora communities and members present in those
*A representative from the South
African Government -who initiated a dialogue with the diaspora and
senior members of the Rajapaksa regime in 2013.
*A representative from the Swiss
Government -Former Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Tore Hattrem.
* Eric Solheim participated briefly on
the 1st day to share his experiences in engaging the diaspora.
Q: In order to have such a
discussion, did the Minister obtain the approval of the Cabinet of
Ministers and the President or the Prime Minister?
(3)All details of discussions at all
times are reported back to the President and the Prime Minister
Q: During the discussions, was
the lifting of the ban on the LTTE or withdrawal of the gazette
notification which banned the organisations that aided and assisted the
banned LTTE and/or organisations which supported the LTTE, discussed?
(4)There was no discussion of lifting
the proscription of the LTTE.
*The annual review of the persons
listed under gazetted regulations 1758/19 dated May15, 2012 and 1760 of
May 31, 2012 (by the previous Government) to give effect to UN
Resolutions 1373 and 1267 was discussed.
*This annual review is mandatory as
per the regulations that have been gazetted by the previous Government.
*When this review is being conducted,
the Competent Authority will take into account the distinction between
those advocating separatism and those who have been voicing concerns
regarding the rights of the Tamil people.
Q: Was the subject of war
crimes discussed at the discussions?
Q: Were views exchanged with
the Global Tamil Forum or with the other local or foreign
representatives who participated in the discussions regarding the
process of preparing a domestic mechanism to examine war crimes?
Q: Will the Minister of Foreign
Affairs make a full statement regarding this discussion to this House?
If not, why?
(7) I have explained to the House the
background, reasons and details and will also share a copy of the Press
Statement issued by the GTF’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and the
Member of Parliament of the TNA. We discussed about a public declaration
renouncing violence as a means of achieving political objectives and a
public commitment to a united and undivided Sri Lanka. The recent
statement by Rev. Fr. S.J. Emmanuel, President of the GTF and Suren
Surendiran reflect this welcome shift in attitude.