By ABC Radio –
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris is in Washington, seeking to ease growing friction with the US, over the lack of accountability for atrocities committed in the final days of the civil war.
It will be three years tomorrow since the end of the war, but American policy-makers are dismayed by the lack of accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka.
Mr Peiris says differences with the United States were overstated, noting that the US-backed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council called for domestic action rather than an international inquiry.
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, says much progress has been made.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia
SAMARASINGHE: Colombo is cooperating with every international agency, every country bilaterally, who are willing to support Sri Lanka in our reconciliation process. We have carried out a systematic and very important census of the north and east, by the population and officials of the north and east. And we have come about finding out the details of the people who’re missing due to this conflict, with a ruthless terrorist organisation who has sent suicide bombers, to see that the people just vanished through thin air, with no trace. So these are the difficulties and the complexities of the situation. We will do the correct thing by our population and we need to look after our population.
LAM: As you say, it has been three years since the end of the civil war. And yet, from all reports, Sri Lanka’s Tamil community still doesn’t feel it has a genuine sense of inclusion, of being true stake-holders in Sri Lanka .. what do you say to that?
SAMARASINGHE: Absolutely wrong. We have a government which was elected by the people. They are being represented by in the parliament. There is a Tamil National Alliance, the Tamil political party, there were elections in the north, and that party won the majority of the provincial elections. So what you say is absolutely wrong, Sen.
LAM: But what about Tamil neighbourhoods, that still find themselves overrun by Sinhalese military, and indeed, many of the soldiers, don’t even want to be there. How is that issue being resolved now?
SAMARASINGHE: That’s an absolute falsehood, this is false propaganda. I can vouch, because I have first-hand experience. In the north and east, there was a large area of land which was not under the total control of the government, and now, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) the terrorists have been eradicated, those areas need to be policed, and security is the prime concern of any country. So we will be placing our police, as required by the government’s security contigencies and strategies, and we will ensure that our citizens will have peace and security and safety. And we have shrunk all our military deployments, especially the higher security zones, and there are only military bases like any other country, and we have placed them strategically, and the military has come out of the administration of the north and east. And if you travel to Sri Lanka, you will see it – not only Tamils, but any person of Sri Lankan origin, whose motherland is Sri Lanka, they have all the right by the constitution, to return to her or his country.
LAM: Some people find it extraordinary that after almost three decades of civil war, that no one had been held accountable for the atrocities that were committed during the conflict?
SAMARASINGHE: In Sri Lanka, the people have been saved by the military, after having been held for so many years, under the gunpoint of terrorists. It is clear evidence that 300-thousand have been rescued by the military.
LAM: Isn’t this ‘evidence’ provided by the military – there is no independent or independently-assessed evidence?
SAMARASINGHE: There is no need of independently-assessed evidence. The evidence was made available to the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), anybody could’ve come to the LLRC to give evidence. And based on that evidence, there’ll be further inquiries. And if any individual who’s committed an offence or criminality, that will be identified. Appreciate the great work – 11,000 militants – tell me a country which 11,000 militants from a most ruthless terrorist group, have been rehabilitated and put back to normal life, within three years. These are records that we are very proud of, and the 300-thousand people who were kept under gunpoint by terrorists were released and they were kept in welfare centres, and they were put back, ninety-seven percent have been put back to their normal place of living.
LAM: And so, has this process been independently assessed, by foreign observers?
SAMARASINGHE: Oh, we don’t need foreign observers but people are not prevented from coming, the rest of the world’s representatives are there in Sri Lanka. They do frequent visits to these places. They have free access to resettled areas, they communicate, they help each other. We do de-mining by Australia, Australia is building houses and hospitals, they are building infrastructure, roads. I mean these things are happening. So your country representatives know exactly what is happening in Sri Lanka. They are the observers, they are on the ground and the free media – you can travel to Sri Lanka anytime. If you wish, i will facilitate. The UN organisations are there. So there is a degree of transparency, absolutely, for people to go and see what has happened.
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