In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean two years ago, there was great hope that recovery and reconstruction would be underpinned by a new spirit of peace and reconciliation, as the same disaster engulfed friend and foe alike. And indeed, in Aceh and at least initially in Sri Lanka, solidarity among the victims, crossing political, national and ethnic lines, gave us all a moving example of swords turned into ploughshares.
Alas, in Sri Lanka that spirit has not been sustained. Instead, the spiral of tension and open conflict, which had wrought so much misery and destruction over the years, has resumed.
I am deeply disheartened by this turn of events. Let me remind all parties of their obligation to respect human rights and international law, and particularly to protect, and allow access to, the civilian population. In the last eight months alone, nearly 215,000 Sri Lankans have been displaced within their cou ntry, while nearly 16,000 more have sought refuge in India. Another 120,000 Sri Lankans remain displaced and need continued assistance as a result of the tsunami. All this presents the humanitarian community in Sri Lanka with a daunting challenge, which is made even more difficult by restrictions arising from the resumed conflict.
In Sri Lanka, More than 35,000 lives were lost on the fateful day of the tsunami. More than 67,000 lives - 3,000 in the past year alone -- have been lost in over 20 years of conflict. No one could have prevented the tsunami's wave of destruction. But together, we can stem the tide of conflict, which threatens once again to engulf the people of Sri Lanka. I urge all parties in Sri Lanka to cease hostilities immediately, and return to the peace process.