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High Commissioner for Sri Lanka briefs Australian Parliamentarians

High Commissioner Thisara Samarasinghe addressing Federal Members of Parliament, Australian Govt. Officials and Australian print and electronic media.

(August 20, Canberra, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner for Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe addressed a gathering of Federal Parliamentarians, Australian Government officials and Australian Print and Electronic Media yesterday (16th August 2011) at an event co-organized by the High Commission and the Australia- Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group.

Hon Chris Hayes, Chair of the Group and Hon Don Randall, Vice Chair of the Group whilst introducing the High Commissioner did not fail to congratulate him on the initiative taken to brief members of Parliament. Both Members expressed the hope that Sri Lanka could now move forward with the end of the conflict.

The High Commissioner briefed those present on the factual context of the Humanitarian Operation undertaken by the Sri Lankan armed forces to rescue 300,000 civilians from the clutches of terrorists who were holding them hostage as human shields. Admiral Samarasinghe spoke from a unique vantage point having been involved in the last stages of the conflict as Commander of Northern and Eastern Naval Areas and as Director General of Naval Operations since 2007. He also shared his perspectives on post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts of the Government, a process he was directly involved in as Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy.

In his presentation, High Commissioner Samarsinghe emphasized that training in IHL, Rules of Engagement in Armed Conflict and Human Rights Laws was an integral part of the training given to Sri Lankan armed forces personnel and this moulded their conduct in the final phase of the conflict. He highlighted the measures taken by all armed forces personnel to prevent civilian casualties throughout the conflict. He drew the attention of the audience to the fact that the Sri Lankan armed forces had received military training alongside the best in the world at different stages of their careers and highlighted the investment made by the country in sophisticated radar and other equipment to identify terrorist targets and to take maximum precautions to save civilian lives in all combat operations.

He addressed comprehensively allegations made regarding the denial of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population and spoke of his involvement in the coordination of the delivery of such assistance in the final phases of the conflict. His presentation also covered several other key areas including the attempts by successive governments to negotiate peace, the failure of the CFA, the incident at Mavil Aru and the atrocities of the LTTE and the international network that supported terrorism in Sri Lanka. The High Commissioner also stated that the alleged civilian casualty figure of 40,000 was completely false and without any basis. He explained the supreme sacrifices made by armed force and police in rescuing civilians and the exemplary conduct of the military.

Dr Eeshara K Vithana former Coordinator of Disaster Preparedness and Response Unit, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka and Visiting Research Fellow, Monash University Department of Forensic Medicine, Australia, made a comprehensive presentation on the provision of Health Services to IDPs in 2009 and highlighted the health standards maintained by the Government in the Welfare Centres which were in keeping with international standards.

The video documentary “Lies Agreed Upon” was also screened at the event.

Hon Randall spoke of his recent visit to Sri Lanka and commented that people in Sri Lanka in particular in the North whom he had spoken and interacted with during the visit appear to want to put the war behind them and move on with their lives. He said that while the Channel 4 video has ignited certain issues related to accountability as a sovereign democratically elected Government, Sri Lanka has taken measures to establish its own domestic mechanism the LLRC which should be allowed to make its own determination on matters. He also said that of the 300,000 rescued only 17,000 remained in camps at the time of his visit. Don Randall who has served as Chair and Deputy Chair of the Group since its inception said that he initiated the setting up of the Group in response to a request made by H E Janaka Perera the former High Commissioner. He added that both Janaka and Vajira Perera were killed by a suicide bomb attack which demonstrated the brutality of what Sri Lanka had to deal with.

The event was well attended with the participation of 16 Federal Members of Parliament from the ruling Labour Party and the Opposition including the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Sub Committee, Chair of the Defence Sub Committee and Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Sub Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of the Federal Parliament. Representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, advisors to Members of Parliament, Parliament Staff and representatives of the Australian Print and Electronic media were also present at the event.

Those present were given copies of the Report “Humanitarian Operation-Factual Analysis”, a CD containing the documentary “Lies Agreed Upon”, speeches of the Minister of External Affairs and Secretary of Defence made at the launch. A copy of the Central Bank’s 60th Anniversary Oration made by Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal titled “Promoting Financial Inclusiveness in the North & the East – The Experience of the Past Two Years” was also distributed at the event.

At the conclusion of the event the High Commissioner responded comprehensively to questions posed by the Australian media on Channel 4 video contents and stated that the contents were completely unsubstantiated. In response to other question the High Commissioner stated that there was no requirement of an international inquiry as Sri Lanka has initiated its own domestic mechanism (LLRC) to investigate all allegations

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