SRI LANKA

STATEMENT
BY
THE HONOURABLE RANIL WICKREMESINGHE

PRIME MINISTER OF SRI LANKA
AT THE 57TH SESSION OF
THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
18TH SEPTEMBER 2002


Mr. President,

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 land mines.

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 it occurs.

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 Terrorism.

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 development.

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.

THANK YOU.