Foreign Minister deliberates on the development of Eastern Province at SCIL, Sydney

Foreign Minister deliberates on the development of Eastern Province at SCIL, Sydney


Ladies and gentleman,

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in South Asia. Universal adult franchise was introduced over seventy five years ago, in 1931. With the advent of Independence in 1948, our Parliament was established on the basis of multi-party democratic elections. Today, human rights are enshrined in our Consultation and are justifiable through our Courts, a remedy availed of by many on a regular basis. We have an independent judiciary and a strong Bar. And indeed just last week the Supreme Court handed down a landmark judgment pronouncing former President Chandrika Bandaranaika Kumaratunga on account of abuse of power. Elections at Local Government, Provincial and National Level are held regularly and on average 70% of the population vote at these elections. Since Independence, successive Governments have changed hands peacefully many times over.

Over the last two decades in Sri Lanka, our entrenched democratic practices have been threatened by the onslaught of terrorism. For over two decades, the LTTE, a terrorist group banned in 30 democracies across all continents, has attempted to carve out by the use of force, a separate mono-ethnic state in the North & the East of the country. The LTTE has attempted to challenge the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that we have built up, and preserved in Sri Lanka for over centuries. Well before September 11, Sri Lanka warned the world against terrorism as one of the greatest national and global threats to democracy, peace and security.

HE President Mahinda Rajapakse has drawn a clear distinction between combating terrorism, and meeting the legitimate aspirations of all the communities in Sri Lanka, including the Muslim Tamil and Sinhalese communities of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. In his address to the current 63rd session of the UNGA, H.E President of Sri Lanka has reiterated that “our Government has always been ready to address the causes of these issues and effectively implement political and constitutional solutions to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities. What the Government would not , and could not do is to let an illegal and armed terrorist group , the LTTE , to hold a fraction of our population , a part of the Tamil community , hostage to such terror in the northern part of Sri Lanka and deny those people their democratic rights of dissent and free elections…”

The Government’s achievements in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is a success story which we consider worthy of sharing with the rest of the world for a number of reasons. We have not only been successful in combating terrorism, but more importantly, we have succeeded in transmeag the mindset of former terrorists. We have demonstrated to them that joining the democratic mainstream provides the greatest opportunity and scope for the full realization of individual freedoms, human development and political progress. From the ashes of grass-root level democratic institutions destroyed by terrorism, we have restored civilian administration and reawakened long-suppressed electoral processes. In the Eastern Province, we have, in a very short space of time, been successful in restoring the scattered lives of civilians and displaced persons to normalcy, providing a basis for recovery and durable solutions. Simultaneously, we have also been able to stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurial spirit by initiating long-term development projects as well as community-based livelihood programmes. We have done so in close cooperation with our development partners as well as the UN agencies and civil society to ensure long-term peace and stability in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The local Government elections in Batticoloa in March this year and the Eastern Provincial Council elections in May this year marked a watershed in the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka. Firstly, after a lapse of nearly twenty years, the people of the Eastern province were able to exercise their democratic rights, and freely elect their representatives at both the local government and Provincial level. Secondly, a breakaway faction of the LTTE, namely the TMVP, entered the democratic mainstream, contested elections together with the governing UPFA and polled the highest votes at both the local government and at the provincial level. On the basis of voter preference, Mr Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan popularly known as “Pillayan”, former child soldier and LTTE cadre, was appointed to the post of Chief Minister of the Province, on the merit of having obtained the largest number of preferential votes from the people given to any candidate at the election. Thirdly, the re-establishment of the Eastern Provincial Council and provincial administration provided the political framework for effective devolution in terms of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution.

Following these momentous events, the editorial of the respected and renowned Indian newspaper, the Hindu of 13 May 2008, had this to say “The very fact of an elected Council coming into existence, after a gap of two decades, in a province that was the theatre of war between the security forces and the LTTE less than a year ago is cause for cheer to all who believe that democracy and genuine devolution of power are the solution to Sri Lanka’s principal national question.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

The population of the Eastern province has for centuries served as a microcosm of the culture of peace and tolerance among our people. In this region, traditionally Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese have co-existed as communities living side by side in peace and amity. The unique feature of the ethnic distribution of the Eastern Province is that all three communities are present in roughly equal ethnic proportions in the province. This long-entrenched culture of tolerance among our people is reflected in the composition of the newly-elected Local and Provincial Councils, where the elected representatives of different communities and political parties are working together to fulfill the aspirations of the people they represent, after decades of conflict and suppression by the LTTE. The election result in the East is a clear example of ethnic and political pluralism.

Ladies and gentlemen, consider this - it was during the Eastern elections that the Mr V. Muralitharan, popularly known as “Karuna”, the TMVP leader himself, like many of the ex-LTTE cadres, exercised his franchise for the first time in his life! The government is pleased that we were able to restore the democratic rights of those disenfranchised youth.

On 7th October 2008, Mr Muaralitharan was sworn in as a Member of the National Parliament of Sri Lanka, and swore allegiance to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. In his maiden speech in the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Mr Muralitharan stated “I started the TMVP to lead towards the democratic path. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was able to establish unity development and democracy in the East which was not there for the last 22 years in the Province due to terrorism”. Such is the extent of transformation of an ex-terrorist, who, all his adult life till now, as a member of the LTTE, supported its secessionist agenda, attempted to dismember a sovereign, unitary State and violently confronted the elected government of Sri Lanka.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Eastern province of Sri Lanka is bountiful, but due to decades of suppression under terrorism, it is under-explored, under-developed and under-utilized. As a result of the years of past repression, the East only contributes 4.8% of the national GDP. The rest of the country is now awakening to the economic potential of the East. For example, in the past, the Eastern Province produced large quantities of marketable surpluses of paddy, and the Eastern rice producing area was recognized as the granary of the country. The Eastern coast of the country is renowned for its tourism potential, and the East houses important remnants of our historical heritage. Starting from pre-Christian times, the famed natural port of Trincomalee has welcomed travelers and traders from Persia, China, Tamil Nadu and the Arabian peninsula.

In order to ensure that the political gains we have made are sustainable in a supportive economic environment, a comprehensive three-year development plan for the Eastern province has now been spelt out by the Government with a view to bringing about a “New Dawn for the East”. This plan covers major sectors, including

• Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons and rebuilding the Capacity of Public institutions.

• Revitalizing Productive Sectors and the Regional Economy including sectors such as agriculture, irrigation, fisheries livestock, industries including SME‘s and tourism.

• Improving Economic Infrastructure such as Electricity, Roads, Ports.

• Strengthening Social Infrastructure and Fostering Social Services e.g. Education, Health.

• Development of Human Settlements e.g. Environment, Urban Development, Housing.

This plan was undertaken in close cooperation with government agencies, development partners, donors and UN agencies and international and local civil society organizations. The total investment required has been estimated at US $ 1840 million, of which 52% is to be met from foreign assistance and the balance is financed largely by government and to a much lesser extent, private sector and other organizations. The Government has allocated US $ 247 million in the 2007 budget, and US $ 476 million has been allocated in the 2008 budget. We hope that the Government of Australia and Australian organizations will also become stakeholders in this effort.

The first phase of this has already been completed under the “180 Day Programme” focused on restoration of civil administration. Important progress has been achieved under this initial phase, which ranged from opening post offices, to establishing marketing and distribution networks for essential consumer items, developing the education sector, restoring health services and developing human resources.

With the acceleration of development activities and the state investing in infrastructure projects like roads, electricity and schools, the private sector has also begun to focus on the East. Investor confidence is returning. For example, Cargills Ceylon Limited together with the Ministry of Nation Building and the World Bank has launched a mega Rs. 8000 million project to develop agriculture and livestock sectors. Cargills is planning to focus on vegetables, rice, fruits, fish and milk, and to avoid middlemen with a buy back arrangement for its own consumer outlets country-wide. Another leading Company Hayleys Agro, which already has a present in the East, will focus on increasing productivity levels in the agricultural sector. Hayleys is training farmers in the use of bio-technology to produce high yielding crops, such as banana, pineapple, strawberry and related fruits, so that it can get the best from the rich soil of the Eastern Province. CIC, the agri specialist in Sri Lanka, has focused on investment in a banana cultivation project benefiting 5000 growers in the Province. The project will provide employment to 10,000 farmer families and the target is to export of bananas and other fruit. CIC will also establish another joint venture project on dairy farming. USAID has also invested US$ 64.7 million in irrigation and agricultural projects.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another remarkable success we have achieved in the East is in the resettlement of IDP’s. A little over one year ago, a high of around 180,000 IDP’s were recorded in the Eastern Province. Today nearly 95% of these have been resettled voluntarily, according to international standards, in their original places of residence. In the immediate aftermath of the liberation of the East, several obstacles were faced – demining on a large scale had to take place, basic infrastructure had to be provided, government administration had to be reinstated, and law enforcement machinery put in place. The present challenge is to assist these people with livelihood opportunities, so that resettlement is sustainable and durable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Very soon we hope to replicate the success that we have witnessed in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka, in all of the Northern province of the country. We are confident that terrorism will soon be defeated, and local and Provincial elections held in the North. The areas in the North where the LTTE is present has diminished rapidly in the past months, and we are confident that these remaining areas will soon be cleared. As a result of domestic and international action against terrorism, the hold of the LTTE has weakened considerably. We hope that Australia will also join the EU, USA, UK, Canada, India and others in banning the LTTE as a terrorist group. Such a measure will contribute towards cutting off external sustenance of the LTTE. It will also have a visible and demonstrative impact on the lives of civilians in the North and the East of Sri Lanka who are held captive by the LTTE.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Government of Sri Lanka attaches the highest importance to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons and civilians in the areas affected by the conflict. This is an obligation and responsibility, which the Government has assumed since the inception of the conflict. In dispatching humanitarian and medical supplies, the Government is fully aware that a considerable portion of this is appropriated by the LTTE. We are also fully aware of the many instances when explosives have been smuggled by the LTTE hidden in food convoys. We recognize security and humanitarian imperatives under such complex situations. Nevertheless we are committed to continuing the humanitarian effort, despite the inherent security risks, while taking maximum precautions to safeguard the safety and security of humanitarian workers.

In order to ensure effective adequate and safe delivery of humanitarian supplies, the Government has been working closely with UN agencies, ICRC as well as a number of local and international NGOs. The Government coordinates this extensive effort through several national as well as ground level mechanisms, overseeing the progress of delivery and distribution of supplies and assessing needs in affected areas on a round the clock basis.

While the Eastern Province has made the important transition from the humanitarian phase to the development phase, the humanitarian effort still continues in some areas of the North of Sri Lanka. In recent months, Government has been progressing in clearing the Wanni area of the North of LTTE activities, and in liberating the people of the Wanni from the clutches of LTTE terrorists. In this context, the Government has found it necessary to further develop the existing hub for humanitarian operations located in Vavuniya with a view to better supplying the civilians and IDPs from a secure location. As a responsible Government, we are concerned of the safety and security of humanitarian worker, and in this light, the Government has requested UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations to relocate their operations from areas where the LTTE is still active to the humanitarian hub which had been established in Vavuniya.

The Government has also encouraged civilians trapped by the LTTE to come to Vavuniya where their safety and welfare could be more effectively ensured. Measures will be taken to ensure safe passage for civilians en route to Vavuniya from conflict affected areas of the North including the declaration and observance of no fire zones.

The provision of humanitarian supplies is a significant logistical and coordination effort that the Government has assumed. In order to ensure that humanitarian supplies reach civilians and IDPs moving North-East of Kilinochchi, on 2nd October, the Government dispatched a convoy consisting of 51 trucks carrying 650 metric tons of food, which proceeded to the area via the A-34 highway. This convoy departed Vavuniya on 2nd October, carrying essential food commodities (rice, flour, sugar, dhal and vegetable oil) and entered areas of the North. The food cargo was delivered at Kandavalai, Dharmapuram, Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTKD) and Mulliyavalai in order to enable direct access by affected people. The warehouses in these locations were selected in order to ensure that food is delivered to the places where a larger segment of the people are located. In future, there will be a pre-notification of food delivery schedules in order to ensure maximum effectiveness of distribution on the ground. As at 3rd October, 29 trucks had been already unloaded. The convoy was accompanied by 7 UN international staff members.

The government has planned to send in similar convoys every week carrying 750-1000 metric tons to ensure the existence of a 5000 metric tons buffer stock in areas of the Wanni. These are in addition to 15-20 lorries sent per day carrying consignments of consumer goods and supplies for the general population in the North, which includes food items, clothing, animal feed, fertilizer and kerosene. In addition, the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services provides cooked food for IDPs for up to a week when these persons were newly displaced. A further allocation to ensure supplies until December 2008 will be dispatched before 15 October 2008.

To ensure that sufficient commercial trucks are available for the subsequent WFP convoys, the Government Agents of the respective Districts, have been directed to ensure up to 150 lorries registered with the security forces are available at Vavuniya, so that no delays are incurred for having to wait for the return of the 30 commercial trucks from the previous convoy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Government is committed to implement a political solution to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities. The All Party Conference (APC) was formed with all political parties in Parliament, who were mandated by H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006, to draw up a set of proposals that would be the basis for a political solution to the national question. In January this year, as an interim measure, the APRC (All Party Representative Committee) recommended fully implementing the devolution provisions of the present Constitution under the 13th Amendment in the immediate term. It identified a course of action to achieve maximum and effective devolution of powers to the Provinces. The emphasis is on meeting the aspirations of the Tamil speaking peoples, especially in the North and East. The course of action thus identified is now being implemented step by step through the newly elected Eastern Provincial Council. However, regrettably, given the LTTE presence in some areas of the North, a free and fair election in the North will not be possible in the immediate. Nevertheless we are confident that once the Northern Province is fully freed from terrorists, and elections held, the Government will be able to ensure the functioning of the Northern Provincial Council in a manner similar to the success we have achieved in the East.

And Ladies and Gentlemen, the people of Sri Lanka, in particular those in the North, need your support and understanding to achieve this and make the whole country once again a flourishing democracy in South Asia.

I thank you.

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