(Adapted to English from the original text in Sinhala)
I am pleased to address this meeting of the Asia Society. Many of my predecessors have also addressed you. Yours is a very special institution. This city which seems an image of globalization has drawn millions of people to it through the centuries. This is the birth place of billions worth of capital and trillions of ideas. The Asia Society which is situated in such a background is a place which nurtures the Asian vision, so essential for the modern world. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to use the opportunity to address the United Nations, to also participate, even in a small way, in this forum of yours. Madam President, while thanking you for your invitation I commend you for your leadership.
Development and people offer great challenges to us. For an environment where globalization threatens development and sovereignty, achieving peace has become a difficult goal. In addition, this equation is not without factors that make it even more complex. The democratically elected governments of independent states are today faced with challenges from non-formal, reactionary, illegal, armed groups. These groups have no right to represent any section of people. Governments elected through the ballot find this task more difficult as many have to respect human rights and freedom as were as uphold the law and safeguard peace. Another problem is the necessity for the governments to be responsible to the people who elected them.
What we face in Sri Lanka is a closely knit combination of these complexities. The problems should be solved with transparency, both nationally and internationally. We should do this while safeguarding national security and also protecting the hallowed individual freedom of the citizen. It is my intention to first share with you some facts with regard to facing the dual challenges of development and peace within a democratic framework, and next to express a few of my own views on these issues.
I do not wish to either enter into a debate on whether the dawn of peace should precede the challenge of development; whether peace should prevail for development; or else, whether development would help in the achieving of peace. Similar to the familiar debate about the chicken and the egg, the dilemma as to what should come first in this context is irrelevant.
It is my firm belief that there exists a symbolic link between peace and development that assist each other. Irrespective of a person’s caste, tribe or religion he or she should be able to contribute to the development process. They should have every opportunity to obtain the dividends of peace and reap its benefits. My aspiration is to implement a development process at the rural level in the areas where Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims live, based on an accelerated development strategy and a strong peace policy. Using the opportunity I received in the November 2005 Presidential election what I placed before the people was how we could achieve peace and development in keeping with my vision. That comprised my election manifesto known as “Mahinda Chintana”. It contained my vision, together with my plans and strategies to achieve an honourable peace and economic development.
My election manifesto is a careful compilation of well thought out ideas for a long term program of action. This was produced following extensive dialogue with all stake holders in the economy. As the preamble to my manifesto I stated the following with all humility:
“This earth and its vegetation is yours. But they should be protected not only for your benefit but also for the benefit of future generations. A ruler is only a temporary trustee and not an owner of your children’s heritage”
To realize this mission I received a very favorable response and endorsement from the people. Therefore, utilizing this invaluable opportunity I shall build a healthy society that serves the needs of all including children, women and adults. Such a society will promote the qualities and values relevant to our country. This should be done upholding human rights and good governance.
I have already launched a community based rural development effort for the empowerment of the poor. Through this we have identified the needs of different sections of the community and carried out suitable responses with the aim of empowering these communities. Action is being taken to make the district and provincial administrations more efficient in order to decentralize the decision making process. Priority has been given to the development of infra –structure facilities. The key sectors of electricity, highways, irrigation, water supply, ports and airports, transport facilities, cities and investment zones have been prioritized for this development. While this will bring about a process of economic development throughout the country, this will also bring about new opportunities to generate employment and investment. Through this we expect to build a healthy economic and social relationship between the private sector and public services. Such relationships could function when a competitive economic policy framework that is both market friendly and export oriented.
My Government is committed to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which are very similar to the goals embodied in the Mahinda Chintana. Implementing the Millennium Goals of primary education, gender equality, reduction of maternity and infantile morality rates are the victories that we have already achieved. Despite the problems faced by terrorism, Sri Lanka has succeeded in carrying forward the socio-economic development of the country.
In Health Services, in 1990 we had one doctor for every 10,000 persons but by 2005 we have increased this to five. In 1990 for every 1000 live child births there were 26 infantile deaths. It has decreased to 12 by 2005. Similarly 96% of our child births take place with the assistance of Health workers. Also in 1990 68% of the population got clean water and by 2005 it increased to 78%. In 1990 longevity at birth was 71 years; it has increased to 74 by 2005.
Among the developing countries Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate, above 90%. During the last few years educational facilities, especially in secondary, tertiary and IT education, improved considerably. The total number of Universities stands at 15. Through the special “Nenasala” project we have taken IT education to remote areas, with limited facilities. Annually, more than 50,000 students are admitted for government vocational and training courses. Eliminating anomalies at regional level, more facilities have been provided to investors in areas away from Colombo through improvement of rural infrastructure facilities and monetary incentives. The government has made efforts to maintain a balanced regional development process by taking steps to initiate 300 industries in Provinces outside the Western Province and by implementing two rural infrastructure development projects. These are the rural road development programme called the “Maga Neguma” and the coordinated rural development programme called the “Gama Neguma”.
The Sri Lankan economy indicates a good state of growth. The 6% growth in 2005 was increased to 8.1% in the 1st quarter of 2006. On the whole, year 2006 is passing all targets to reach 7% growth. Through balanced share market activity and high business credibility, scope for development of our economy is clearly indicated. It has been observed that during the first seven months of 2006 the share market has been active and grown and in the private sector, profits of large firms remained high.
I wish to mention a few facts about the biggest challenge facing us, which is the realization of peace. I wish to place facts before you honestly when speaking about this complex and yet very important subject. Every government in Sri Lanka has made many efforts to achieve peace with the most heavily armed terrorist group, the LTTE. However, all these attempts failed perhaps due to many reasons. The LTTE has on every occasion withdrawn from the negotiation table under some pretext. However, I should mention one fact here. All elected governments having recognized the grievances of every community living in Sri Lanka have made efforts to find suitable solutions to them. In making those efforts one thing we have to keep in mind is our strong commitment to protect democracy and human rights, honour the rule of law and maintain a pluralist political system. At the same time we have to safeguard the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the unitary status of the country.
When I was elected President I gave a pledge about my government’s unchanging commitment to a political solution. I also promised to continue talks with the LTTE. I promised this with the honest intention of bringing about peace. I firmly stand by those promises. Although the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil community, and, although their basic strategies do not fulfill the needs of the Tamil people, I gave those pledges with the intention of achieving peace. Although many had doubts about the CFA signed in 2002, we decided to act in accordance with it. In spite of this it is saddening to note that the LTTE is treading the murderous path, violating every provision of the Ceasefire Agreement. It was long before I became President that the LTTE itself decided not to continue negotiations for peace under Norwegian facilitation.
Because the LTTE is continuing its murderous activities and assassinations of innocent civilians, many countries, especially Canada and EU countries have banned it as a terrorist organization. The European Parliament has adopted a number of important measures against LTTE activities. I am pleased to state that the US government also has started hunting down those who supply arms to the LTTE. Today, the innocent Tamil people in Sri Lanka are migrating to the Western Province in large numbers. 54% of the total Tamil population is now living outside the North East. Especially in the Western Province they live and work happily. It is no secret to the world that the LTTE is a murderous outfit. Immediately after the EU ban of the LTTE they made various statements against all EU monitors of CFA, and monitors of those countries had to leave the country. The LTTE should do only one thing; that is stop their murderous activities, put an end to the massacre of civilians, leave alone the Tamil community in Jaffna and come to the negotiation table. There is nothing else that they can do. It is regrettable that many are forgetting the LTTE’s atrocities and cruel assassinations.
A member of the sub-committee on a political solution of the All Party Conference summoned by me, who was also the Deputy Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat, one Ketheesh Loganathan, a Tamil democrat, was cruelly gunned down by the LTTE, among its atrocities.
Despite all this, I wish to state that my Government remains committed to an honourable peace through negotiation with the LTTE. Although many countries may speak of terrorism in their own territory they do not provide the terrorists with their needs through humane considerations. However, our record is different. When a LTTE member fell ill he was provided facilities for medical treatment, despite their many atrocities. All this is done with the honest intent that some day they would enter the democratic process. The LTTE robs a large portion of the food and other material assistance the Government provides the Tamil people in the North. What is so robbed amounts to many millions.
The task before us is two-fold. First, Sri Lankans and the International Community should be determined to take the LTTE on to the democratic path. It should not be possible for them to obtain any recognition in the world as long as they are engaged in terrorism. Secondly, Sri Lankans and the International Community should extend all support to the political solution we are formulating. We should be helped to make that solution acceptable to all. I firmly believe that we can find a solution acceptable to the majority of our people. I have already prepared the foundation to meet this dual challenge. I have shown the LTTE that a militaristic policy is not in keeping with our search for peace. We have shown them through our own military successes over them that they cannot obtain a political solution through their strategy of violence. The sole aim of our military operations in the past months was ensuring the security of the people and bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table. Our actions are justified because the operations to protect Mawil Aru, the people of Muttur and restore the situation in Sampur, were all taken in the longer interest of our national security.
My government has followed another policy parallel to that of ensuring the security of the state. This is the seeking of a solution through a multi-party and multi-ethnic approach. I believe that complex exercise will be fruitful. In keeping with my mandate I have not forgotten an important factor in all these efforts. That is the need to establish and strengthen democracy, human rights and a multi-religious culture in our country. I have fought for human rights from the inception of my political life. I cannot abandon those basic core values. There can be no value in any peace process that betrays fundamental human rights. We also cannot play around with the integrity and security of our nation and country. The LTTE leadership has the opportunity to demonstrate their true commitment to peace. We can also relax certain political positions we hold. My expectation is to agree to what agreement can be reached on and carry on negotiations on other issues. However, all this can be achieved only if the LTTE stops its cruel killing of people, gives up all terrorist activities and makes a firm commitment to a genuine ceasefire.
I wish to summarize the challenges that lie before Sri Lanka in the search for peace. The difficulty of this task is emphasized by the fact that is necessary to suppress the ideologies that are ranged against peace in our country in carrying out this task. These challenges are:
- Many people think that peace is possible through an agreement between the government and the LTTE only. Some believe that peace can be achieved through the betrayal or destruction of the core values of our country. I emphasize that genuine peace should have a pragmatic approach and be acceptable to all.
- Some others think this is possible solely through constitutional reform. They propose that this is possible through a federal or other state structure. Although many may have the time to debate about mere labels, it is regrettable that they cannot comprehend the correct situation. I have neither the time nor the need for such extended debate. What I expect is to identify and approach the final result, and then give it an appropriate name. Many are those who make much profit through crises, arms deals and bringing pressure on various groups both internationally and within a country. The more crises and conflicts there are the more they gain. We are at present seeking to curb these pressures by working with friendly countries.
- Another problem we face is dealing with people who believe in peace at any cost. I do not see the value of peace where everything is sacrificed for it. Individual freedom, human rights, democracy, the people’s franchise and independence are matters we cannot sacrifice for the cause of peace.
- There are still others who believe that because the LTTE has signed a ceasefire agreement and it comes for negotiations with the government from time-to-time, we should remain silent in the face of its illegal activities, violations of human rights, terrorist attacks and threats to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by them.
After our victory in the election back in November my government and I have launched a prudent and well-thought-out course of action.
All this time I sought to present to you the truth about the present situation and the challenges before us, and to show you how an elected government should overcome those challenges under democracy and respect for law which we have cherished so long. I hope you would appreciate the commitment of our government to enter into an active political process on the one hand and on the other the procedure adopted by us to safeguard the security and good of our society.
With the objective of having a new constitution for Sri Lanka I am ready to involve in a deep political discussion with the LTTE at any level, in order to ensure their active participation for that purpose. I see it also as an inducement for the LTTE to enter the democratic stream. We have already launched that exercise. Although many people of the country have expressed adverse opinions about the state of Norway, I wish to state that I am prepared to go ahead utilizing the facilitation offered by Norway and other friendly countries.
I invite the LTTE to offer their active participation to the democratic exercise launched by us to share power by devolution through negotiation, instead of demanding a separate state which is never attainable, and engaging in military and terrorist activities.
The truth is that over 50% of the Tamil people live not in the North–East but in other areas outside it. Sinhalese and Muslim people who lived in the North-East who have been expelled form there are anxiously waiting to go back and live in the homes owned by them. Tamil people who have migrated to Colombo and other places in the Western Province have become stakeholder of the economy, having made large investments. The government continues to invest billions for the infrastructure development of the North-East. The LTTE knows very well that the economy is developing despite the crisis situation created by it and warlike activities in the artificially demarcated areas in the North-East.
Understanding the efforts of the Sri Lankan state and the duly elected government by the people to effect change through a democratic constitutional process, the LTTE should abandon terrorist activities and to show that they are a group that has entered the democratic stream. The Sri Lankan nation is anxiously waiting to see this happen. What I can say is that to make this a reality the LTTE should immediately come to the negotiating table. I request the facilitators to be creative transformers.
However, I wish to finally state that if the facilitators proceed to further the existing situation it will not be to our satisfaction.
Contact Information: Send mail to email@example.com with questions or comments about this web site.