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Australia expresses appreciation for Sri Lanka’s cooperation on the people smuggling and trafficking issues

(September 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The resettlement of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) is foremost on the Sri Lanka Government’s agenda in the post-conflict phase emphasized Rohith Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs when he met his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith today (22/09) on the margins of the 64th UNGA Sessions. Minister Bogollagama elaborated that the Government recognizes the correlation of resettlement with the reconciliation process and the imperative need for the displaced persons to return to a life of normalcy at the earliest. He thanked Minister Smith for Australia’s assistance in providing relief to the IDPs and financing demining activities in order to facilitate resettlement.

The Australian Minister agreed that Sri Lanka’s priority at this juncture should be resettlement of the displaced and in this context outlined that Australia’s assistance is threefold encompassing IDPs, demining and providing equipment for demining. He pledged the possibility of increasing the assistance for demining activities on the part of Australia in order to fast track the return of IDPs to their areas of habitation.

Minister Bogollagama referred to the resettlement of IDPs in Jaffna and Mannar and explained that the screening of approximately 160,000 persons had been completed with 110,000 being issued identity cards. With regard to releasing to host families the Minister regretted that there had been no sizable response of offers and only since 2000 were received the Government has decided to re-advertise. As informed to United Nations Under-Secretary General Lynn Pascoe day passes have been issued to those with identity cards in order to engage in livelihood pursuits, he said. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister pointed out the challenges being faced in the demining process even with the involvement of seven INGOs and opined that the security forces were able to clear the mines more speedily due to their familiarity with the terrain. He welcomed Australia’s offer to increase assistance for demining purposes.

With regard to the political process Minister Bogollagama stated that the Government was steadily progressing and the proposals would be presented in a timely manner. The Tamil National Alliance is engaging as a political group with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on issues pertaining to the IDPs is a positive development he said and hoped that the dialogue would continue into the political aspects.

Minister Bogollagama took the opportunity to brief Minister Smith on the outcome of UN USG Pascoe’s visit to Sri Lanka. In this context, he said that UN agencies have full access to the displaced persons’ welfare villages and that the role of the ICRC is being evolved according to the needs of the post-conflict phase.

Minister Smith expressed appreciation for Sri Lanka’s cooperation on the people smuggling and trafficking issues. He said that the visit to Sri Lanka of the Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship had paved the way in enhancing cooperation on human trafficking related issues. Minister Bogollagama stated that due to Sri Lanka’s having being a victim of human smuggling and trafficking engaged in by the terrorists the importance of being part of Australia’s agenda on this issue was seen to be appropriate.

Minister Smith undertook to visit Sri Lanka during the first half of next year in order to experience the developments in the country and enhance the relations between the two countries.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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