THE HONOURABLE RANIL WICKREMESINGHE
PRIME MINISTER OF SRI LANKA
AT THE 57TH SESSION OF
THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
1. Let me begin by conveying, on behalf of the Sri Lanka Delegation, our
sincere felicitations on your election as the President of this 57th Session
of the General Assembly and assurances of our fullest co-operation.
2. I would also like to express appreciation for the exemplary manner in
which Dr. Han Seung-Soo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of
Korea guided the work of the 56th Session.
3. We warmly welcome Switzerland and East Timor as new members of the organisation.
4. Our discussions and debates in this Assembly often reach heady heights
and seek grand objectives, but ultimately they are about the future lives,
the well-being and security of the people we are privileged to represent.
5. It is with such thoughts in my mind that I recall the horrendous events
of September 11th last year which claimed the lives of so many Americans
and people of other nationalities, from all over the world. As we are only
too painfully aware, they are not the only victims of terror.
6. The attack confirmed what we in Sri Lanka have long known - that terrorism
had also long been globalized. As President Bush acknowledged:
" September 11th was not the beginning of global terrorism: it was
the beginning of the World's concerted response."
7. We, in Sri Lanka, perhaps know better than most the tragedies that conflict
and terrorism create. My own country has been ravaged by a twenty year conflict.
It has caused over 65,000 deaths. 800,000 are internally displaced. Tragic
stories abound. Children who will never see their fathers return home, mothers
who have lost their sons, and children who, even today innocently, fatally
step on anti personnel mines. I have talked to the disabled soldiers and
the dispossessed, the people who have no homes, and those who return to
the North-East to find war torn ruins and once productive fields sown with
8. The election victory last December of the Government I represent, was
a clear national mandate to end the conflict in the North-East. The Government
has since moved swiftly towards the fulfillment of this mandate. A ceasefire
with the LTTE group was signed on 22nd February this year. The Ceasefire
has held. Confidence building measures have encouraged the free movement
of people throughout the country and have revived economic activity. Peace
talks with the LTTE, facilitated by Norway, commenced two days ago in Sattahip,
Thailand. The LTTE has been unilaterally de-proscribed by the Sri Lanka
Government to facilitate the talks, to give peace a chance, and the LTTE
a chance for peace.
9. A flexible approach is necessary in the negotiations - a warm heart and
a cool head. An understanding of the other side, their aspirations and their
concerns is essential. Negotiations are complex and will take time.
10. In the early stages of our talks with the LTTE, we are trying to resolve
some of the immediate practical needs of the people that can bring relief
and normalcy to our society. Economic re-construction and development of
the affected areas will be a deciding factor in sustaining the momentum
of political negotiations. Development is part of the healing process in
a wounded, divided society. The pressing day-to-day problems of the people
need to be settled as early as possible. Indeed at the discussions in Thailand,
there was strong endorsement of the urgent need for resources to ensure
early dividends of the peace process. The role played by Norway in facilitating
this process, and most recently, at the peace talks is deeply appreciated.
I extend my sincere thanks to them for all their efforts.
11. Already, following the ceasefire, there are signs of people enjoying
their re-discovered freedom. The people want more. Exchange visits between
school children and other groups from the south and north and vice -versa
have revealed to many that the "other side" is not so different
after all. Last week our capital Colombo came to a standstill as people
from all over the country, from every religion and every ethnic group in
society flocked to a peace rally.
12. These are all encouraging signs. But with them comes a risk. The imperative
for peace is growing. The people demand peace and the politicians and negotiators
on both sides had better deliver. Peace is people driven. The conflict had
dragged our economy to near bankruptcy and last year, for the first time
in independent Sri Lanka, we recorded negative growth. Resources must flow
into developing the areas ravaged by war. Opportunities should be created.
The momentum of growth must be re-established. The people want to see normalcy
restored. Not tomorrow but today. The farmers want their damaged irrigation
canals repaired today - their harvest cannot be delayed until the final
agreement is reached. This imperative is driven ever - more by young people
among Sri Lankan armed forces and LTTE cadres whose weapons lie silent.
Without international support and help with resources to build a peace dividend,
the gloss on peace can be dulled. With the re-creation of opportunities
for people and for growth, politicians and negotiators will be driven even
harder to stabilize, advance and sustain the peace.
13. From there we can approach the complex constitutional issues. Those
questions will take time. Yet we believe that the way forward is through
a clearly representative interim administration within a united Sri Lanka
in which the rights of all communities, Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese are
safeguarded. This allows us to carry forward an initiative to empower local
people by decentralising governmental authority and establishing five regional
economic development zones. Through such initiatives we intend to encourage
local people to be responsible for driving economic growth in their own
regions. These measures, along with the liberalisation and de-regulation
of our economy will generate wealth.
14. Meanwhile an immediate security dimension is pressing. Hundreds of thousands
of mines need to be removed from tracts of land to make it safe and arable
for the internally displaced persons to return to their homes and farms.
Sri Lanka is reviewing its position on the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel
Mines with a view to becoming party to it as confidence in peace accrues.
We are grateful for the help we are receiving from the UN, members of the
International Community and NGOs, in our de-mining programme.
15. My Government is resolved to ensure that the people of the North and
East of our Republic should also enjoy the same security, the same quality
of life, democratic governance and human rights which people in other parts
of the country enjoy. Sri Lanka has a high rating on the Human Development
Index of the UNDP with our per capita income figures, our life expectancy
and our literacy amongst the highest in the region. Peace will enhance all
this further but its dividend must be credited to all the shareholders in
Sri Lanka's future.
16. Sri Lanka welcomes the support our peace process has received from members
of the International Community and the United Nations. On a request made
by me to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a UN Inter-agency Needs Assessment
Team visited Sri Lanka in April - May this year. The team reached a strategic
overview of the current situation that can guide immediate, mid to long
term action by UN Agencies in Sri Lanka. We thank the Secretary-General
for his efforts.
17. To quicken the pace of peace and to have its dividends credited directly
and urgently to the people is imperative. We are grateful for all those
who are assisting us in Quick Impact Projects. The implementation of these
projects without delay will help peace take root, involve people in the
affected areas in their economic and social recovery and ease the way for
higher stages of development.
18. Throughout its long history, there have been flattering descriptions
of Sri Lanka - centuries before our Tourist Board promoted the serenity
of the island. The ancient Arabs and medieval Europeans called our island
"Paradise". If in the course of our recent conflict, some of the
quality of Paradise has been lost, then surely Paradise must be regained.
" Regaining Sri Lanka" is much more than a slogan, it is a practical,
do-able strategy in which we invite the International Community to participate.
19. While seeking a negotiated solution to our own conflict, Sri Lanka strongly
supports negotiating a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We have
long supported a responsible peace process which would lead to the acceptance
of two States, Israel and Palestine, prospering in conditions of peace and
security, as neighbours, under secure and recognized borders. We urge the
resumption of a serious dialogue between Israel and Palestine as a prelude
to sustained negotiations.
20. In Sri Lanka, dialogue and negotiations are turning around a long-drawn
out conflict. For those who were responsible for September 11th, the approach
needs to be different. No cause justifies the killing of innocent people.
Global Terrorism must be eradicated in whatever manifestation, and wherever
21. We support a comprehensive approach to international terrorism through
the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism. Terrorism has affected virtually all
the countries of South Asia. A meeting in Sri Lanka will soon draft an additional
Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.
The Protocol would update the Convention, inter alia, to meet the obligations
devolving on member states in respect of UN Security Council Resolution
1373 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing for
22. The United Nations has been a source for good since its inception. It
is the forum in which complex, competing and even confrontational concerns
have an opportunity for interaction and possible reconciliation. Under the
UN Secretary-General's initiative of the Global Compact, it provides for
the launching and navigation of positive partnerships between the corporate
and state sectors.
23. We also look forward to the implementation of decisions taken at the
UN Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey. We welcome
the Millennium Challenge Account as an outcome of that Conference to assist
countries committed to democratic norms and good governance, the engagement
of the private sector and the involvement of the people in the process of
24. In Sri Lanka, we intend to re-establish an investment friendly country
with an efficient bureaucracy and a thriving private sector. On this visit
to the United States, I have brought a team from our industrial sector to
talk to American businessmen. We are grateful to the United Nations for
helping my government to organise an Investment Promotion Forum in the United
States tomorrow with the participation of members of our private sector
who will interact with their counterparts here. These close encounters of
the business kind will provide insight into the opportunities for collaborative
economic and development ventures in Sri Lanka as we move forward on the
peace front. Investment in peace makes sound political and economic sense
for both Sri Lanka and its partners abroad. Growth in Sri Lanka will be
good for everyone.
25. Across Sri Lanka, the people continue to build the only true peace we
can hope for. Without fanfare, without politicians or the media, they are
quietly going about their business, finding old friends and building new
relationships. The mistrust and suspicion are slowly melting away as people
talk and share past experiences. The hatred in some hearts will take a little
longer to dispel. But even that will be overcome in time by the deep desire
for weapons to be destroyed, mines to be cleared and the sound of laughter
to be heard once again.
26. Trusting the people, whether it be for the consolidation of peace or
the pursuit of development is the best policy. We are beholden to the people
we work for: whether they be clients, or customers or shareholders or voters.