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Japanese Envoy commends Government for sincerity in addressing humanitarian needs

(June 10, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama welcoming the Japanese Special Envoy Yashushi Akashi today (10th June 2009) at the Ministry stated that although he has been a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, the Government is pleased to receive him for the first time in the country after the end of the conflict, in a climate free of LTTE terror. The Minister highlighted the success of the military in countering terrorism and the present challenge faced by the Government to improve the facilities for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) numbering approximately 280,000 who are sheltered in welfare villages and IDP camps in the North, as well as their expeditious rehabilitation and resettlement.

Ambassador Akashi noted that the discussions that he has been having with Ministers and Government officials have been always characterized by candour and mutual friendship. He commended the Sri Lankan armed forces for having “displayed extraordinary courage and exemplary determination to defeat a formidable enemy and an extremist organization such as the LTTE.”

He said that Japan is privileged to be on Sri Lanka’s side, as it proceeds to this new phase, which is fraught with many difficult challenges. Japan, as an Asian country like Sri Lanka, with an equally rich culture and tradition has been working closely with Sri Lanka and maintaining an effective communication link, which avoids any misunderstanding.

Ambassador Akashi expressed his admiration for the tremendous progress that he witnessed at the welfare village housing the IDPs in the North yesterday, since his last visit to Sri Lanka. He said that normalizing the living conditions of the IDPs would be a daunting task for any country, and in this context, highlighted the fact that Sri Lanka has been coping with the humanitarian situation with tenacity and sincerity.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama, while acknowledging the existence of shortcomings in the welfare villages and IDP camps, emphasized that the Government is taking concerted action to improve the facilities and services in these locations. He also pointed out that the welfare villages were under civilian control. Referring to the presence of the military, the Minister said that their role was to provide security to the camps and to clear and build basic infrastructure to accommodate the displaced persons. He reiterated the Government’s firm commitment to the implementation of the 180 day programme to resettle 80% of the IDPs in their native places. Already, the Government has commenced this programme in the Mannar district.

During the discussions, the need for the international community to help Sri Lanka rebuild the war damaged infrastructure in the North was emphasized. The Japanese delegation responded positively to the request for financial assistance to undertake de-mining of areas in the North, to make them safe for human habitation and economic development. Japan has already contributed US$ 2.1 million this year to finance de-mining operations in the North.

Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris stated that the immediate priority for the Government was to address the humanitarian needs of the IDPs, who have undergone untold pain and suffering. He said that the Government was committed to restore the livelihoods of these people, which would enable them to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. In this context, he underscored the need for rapid economic development of the North, which will open new vistas of opportunity. Referring to the political process underway to find a lasting solution to the conflict, Prof. Peiris pointed out that one of the most heinous acts that the LTTE had committed in the past had been to destroy the entire political leadership of the Tamil people. In this backdrop, it is the expectation of the Government that by holding local government elections in the North, space would be created for the emergence of a new and viable leadership from among the Tamil community. Having defeated terrorism, it was of paramount importance that this victory be translated into political empowerment of the people and economic development of the North. In the past, some of the political proposals could not be implemented due to a lack of consensus in the South. Therefore, the Minister pointed that it was essential that the APRC Proposals that are being finalized should command the support of the people.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama referring to the Co-Chairs opined that there was a need to revise its role in the light of the current developments in the country. Tracing the history of the Co-Chairs to the Tokyo Conference in June 2003, the Minister noted the need to broaden the agenda and a shifting of the focus to a more development oriented outlook in the post-conflict phase that Sri Lanka has entered. Since the present composition of the Co-Chairs did not reflect the spirit of partnership and cooperation that Sri Lanka had envisaged, there was a need to review the status of the Co-Chairs and seek a fresh and broader engagement with “Development Partners” who would support a truly people oriented Sri Lankan agenda. Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, endorsing the Foreign Minister’s observations, pointed out that there was a widespread popular perception in the country that the Peace Process that had been initiated with the signing of the CFA in February 2002 had been exceedingly donor driven and that it had been imposed on the people. Ambassador Akashi responding to the suggestion by the two Ministers, stated that the role of the Co-Chairs was not “inscribed in stone” and stressed the importance of breaking new ground and not being tied down to the past. He noted that the Co-Chairs was merely an informal grouping and expressed the hope that more countries would be invited so that they could contribute to the economic development agenda of Sri Lanka.

Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice & Law Reforms and Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Mr. Suhada Gamalath, Secretary to the Ministry of Healthcare & Nutrition, Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage, senior officials of the Foreign Ministry and relevant line Ministries were on the Sri Lankan delegation. Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka, Kunio Takahashi and accompanying members of the Japanese delegation were associated with Ambassador Akashi.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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