Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner for Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe addressed a gathering of Federal Parliamentarians, Australian Government officials and Australian Print and Electronic Media today (29th February 2012) at an event co-organized by the High Commission and the Australia- Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group titled “ A Nation Moves On: Sri Lanka’s journey from conflict to reconcilitation”. Guest Speaker on the occasion was Prof Rohan Gunaratna, Head of Singapore’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research and Professor of Security Studies, Nanyang Technological University. Prof Gunaratna also serves on the Advisory Board of International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague.
Hon Chris Hayes, Chair of the Group and Hon Don Randall, Vice Chair of the Australia-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group hosted the event.
Introducing the speakers Hon Randall spoke of his visits to Sri Lanka over the years most recently in 2011 and said that the Tamil citizens of the North he met during the visit were keen to move forward with their lives in an atmosphere in which they could further their own culture and follow their religion freely. He added that they wanted their children to get back to studies and basically get on with day to day life.
Prof Gunaratna, began proceedings by explaining the magnitude of the terrorist threat that Sri Lanka had to face and the sophistication and brutality of the LTTE which was finally defeated militarily in 2009. He explained the circumstances of the humanitarian rescue operation undertaken by the Sri Lanka Government to rescue 300,000 civilians who were being held hostage as human shields. Speaking of his involvement in developing a programme for the rehabilitation of LTTE ex-combatants, he said that the programme had successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated most of those that surrendered (11,600) save a few hundred who have been heavily involved in terrorist activities against whom judicial action would be taken depending on evidence available.
Prof. Gunaratne also gave details of fund raising and arms procurement that was done by the LTTE in Australia over the years through front organisations and requested members of parliament not to let front organisations continue to do the same in the future. Although the LTTE has been defeated militarily Prof Gunaratna stated that LLTE supporters overseas continue to agitate to revive the group. On the issue of reconciliation, he said that the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, an institution created in memory of the former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka of Tamil ethnicity who was assassinated by the LTTE, has held several rounds of discussions with stakeholders to address various aspects of reconciliation. He requested that Australia consider supporting an international conference on reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
High Commissioner Samarasinghe in his presentation highlighted Sri Lanka’s achievements in the post conflict phase including the resettlement of over 90% of Internally Displaced Persons, rehabilitation of ex-combatants, reduction of HSZs, withdrawal of Emergency Regulations, de-mining, holding of elections in the North and East etc. He also explained the steps being taken by the Government with regard to reconciliation including the launch of the Trilingual Policy initiative, large infrastructure projects undertaken in the North, the large amount to funds allocated and delivered to develop the North and East and the steps taken to recruit over 600 Tamil speaking police officers to ensure that persons of Tamil ethnicity would be able to obtain assistance in their own language. The High Commissioner also drew to the attention to those present that the North was growing at a rate of 22% in comparison to the rest of the country which is growing at a rate of over 8%. He underscored the emphasis placed by the Government of Sri Lanka in ensuring that economic development is delivered to the people of the North and East quickly as they were the ones most affected by the conflict.
The High Commissioner briefed those present on the LLRC report and said that the Government was going ahead with the implementation of these recommendations and would be announcing a roadmap for same soon. He sought the understanding of the international community and friends such as Australia as Sri Lanka moves towards this process. He stated that Sri Lanka should be given adequate time and space to undertake its internal reconciliation process. As a case in point he said that following the LLRC recommendations the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy have established their own inquiries to investigate any wrongdoings by service personnel during the conflict.
The High Commissioner said further that he was deeply concerned about certain elements in the diaspora in Australia who were intent on destroying the processes of reconciliation and economic development taking place in Sri Lanka by continuing a campaign of separatism. He highlighted the involvement of these diaspora members in LLTE and LTTE front activities and said that they have already begun fundraising campaigns for the cause of creating a separate state of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. He added that these front organisations were similar to those set up by the LTTE in 80’s through which they raised funds and procured arms and ammunition to unleash terrorism in Sri Lanka. He explained to those present how the LTTE flag was used at the Australia Vs Sri Lanka cricket match held in Sydney on 17th of February and said that it was regrettable that an international sporting encounter was used by the pro-LTTE lobby to agitate for their cause. The High Commissioner concluded his presentation with a photograph depicting a recent marriage which had taken place between a Sri Lankan soldier and a former LTTE combatant. He said that reconciliation was happening in Sri Lanka between the two communities and the pro-LTTE diaspora should not be allowed to derail that process.
The event was well attended with the participation Federal Members of Parliament from the ruling Labour Party and the Opposition including the Speaker of the House of Representatives The Hon Peter Slipper, Chair and Deputy Chair of the Australia- Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group, Hon Maria Vamvakinou, Hon Senator Catryna Bilyk, and Hon Rowan Ramsey. Representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, AusAID, advisors to Members of Parliament, Parliament Staff and representatives of the Australian Print and Electronic media were also present at the event.
During the event the High Commissioner and Prof. Gunaratna responded to queries raised by Members of Parliament on the LLRC Report and the reconciliation efforts.
Sri Lanka High Commission
29th February 2012