"Sri Lankan peace process holds lessons for the world" - British Minister

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 29 January 2003, 12:50 GMT]
The Sri Lanka peace process holds a lesson for the world, that long-lasting conflicts can be resolved if both sides have the courage to put bitterness and mistrust behind them, and find the flexibility and generosity of spirit to reach a compromise which can satisfy all sides, writes British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien who arrived in Colombo today for a two-day visit.

Full text of his article:

Mike O'Brien"My visit to Sri Lanka comes at a time when the world is facing many new and unpredictable threats, including global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"I am particularly pleased to be visiting Sri Lanka - a place of hope and optimism - at such a time.

"Both sides have made great progress since the beginning of the ceasefire - and today there is a genuine opportunity to reach a lasting resolution to this conflict.

"Of course, it is still early days. Sri Lanka has suffered many years of fighting, fear, and mistrust between communities - these cannot be healed in a short time. And over the course of negotiations there are bound to be obstacles that may challenge the will of both sides to stay engaged.

"But the benefits of peace are already visible. Tourists - many of them British - are returning to Sri Lanka, as it turns from a no-go area into a hot destination. Roadblocks have gone from the streets. And most of all, ordinary Sri Lankans have been able to enjoy the benefits of a year of living without fear. As long as both sides remain committed to the process, the rewards of peace can only grow.

"I welcome the positive and constructive work of the negotiators on both sides - as well as the valuable part played by the Norwegian facilitators. The Sri Lankan government, and the LTTE, have agreed that it is necessary to address human rights issues as part of the peace process. The LTTE have made a public commitment to stop child recruitment and will be working closely with UNICEF in developing a plan of action for the prevention of child recruitment and the reintegration of former child soldiers. These are encouraging signs and we hope that children will be quickly returned to their families. A sustainable resolution to the conflict must incorporate respect for human rights, and representation of all communities.

"It goes without saying that Britain will continue to do everything possible to support the peace process. This will include political, practical, and moral support. We will provide assistance with the reconstruction and development programmes which will help to sustain this young peace. We will work to help communities to put their war-shattered lives together again. Most of all, our duty is to encourage confidence in the peace process by helping ensure that tangible benefits are delivered to people across the whole of Sri Lanka, not only for immediate emergency and humanitarian needs, but for long term development.

"In 2003, the UK's development assistance to Sri Lanka will be £15 million - and £20m in 2004 - making us the second largest bilateral donor. Our assistance includes funding for quick impact projects to help resettle the displaced and return their lives to normality; it also covers our longstanding programmes which focus on reconciliation, education and support to rural livelihoods. In addition, the UK is looking at ways to assist with policing, including in the north and east, and is providing technical assistance to the Defence Review Committee.

"We can also help Sri Lanka to rebuild through our healthy commercial relations. There are over 120 British and joint venture projects in commercial operation, providing direct employment to nearly 25, 000 workers. And we are the leading European investor and second overall in value of projects. The Commercial team at the British High Commission is active in promoting British trade and investment in Sri Lanka, organising British trade missions and specialist visits, and setting up contacts for Sri Lankan missions visiting the UK. A record number of Sri Lankans are visiting the UK, where I hope they will feel very welcome. Similarly, more tourists come to Sri Lanka from the UK than any other country.

"The variety of links which bring our two countries together has developed throughout the last nineteen years of conflict. These links will continue to grow and deepen as Sri Lanka makes this great effort to bring the country together and emerge from the conflict into a brighter future.

"The Sri Lanka peace process holds a lesson for the world, that long-lasting conflicts can be resolved if both sides have the courage to put bitterness and mistrust behind them, and find the flexibility and generosity of spirit to reach a compromise which can satisfy all sides. Conflict resolution needs to be a process, in which all parties to the conflict have to learn to trust one another and become partners in building peace. This of course will take time. And there will be difficult issues which need to be resolved. But encouraging progress has been made so far. The benefits of peace are tangible. No-one wants a return to war.

"You can rely on continued British support, to play a part in ensuring that Sri Lanka will continue to be a sign of hope and optimism for the world."

He will be speaking at the Bandaranaike Memorial Hall (BMICH) on international security issues addressing matters of immediate interest and concern in the global context as well as those of particular relevance to the evolving peace process in Sri Lanka.

The British Minister will be meeting with the Prime Minister, Minister GL Peiris, Minister Moragoda and other senior officials, to discuss the progress of the peace process and other matters of bilateral interest, a British Embassy press release said.


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