The economic imperatives were recognized immediately by the government once the conflict ended and the economic revival is in full swing in the North, stated Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona at a discussion on Sri Lanka's post-conflict rebuilding at Asia Society, New York on 14 March.
He said that resettling the displaced was the immediate priority and today over 95% of the original 294,000 IDPs have returned to their villages. The remaining 17,000 have been permitted to leave, but have chosen to remain because of the facilities available in the camps, he said.
With regard to reintegrating ex-LTTE combatants into civilian society, Ambassador Kohona said that the government has adopted an extremely conciliatory attitude towards former combatants.
‘The Government decided to treat most of them as victims rather than as criminals’.
He pointed out that in less than 15 months since the end of the conflict over 6000 ex-combatants out of the 11,700 identified, have been reintegrated after providing vocational and other trainings. The Ambassador added that the government has implemented a clear policy to return child combatants to their own families, communities and schools after providing them with catch-up education, counseling as well as English and IT training.
He also stated that the Ambepussa rehabilitation center set up for child combatants and received high praise from visitors, will be closed this year. All those at the Ratmalana rehabilitation centre have now been returned to their own communities and parents, he said.
A remarkable level of confidence has returned to the country contributing to the reconstruction effort, he said and explained the post-conflict recovery efforts.
Over 850 schools and all the hospitals and clinics have been rehabilitated and hundreds of miles of roads and power lines have been restored. Agricultural and fisheries production in the former LTTE controlled areas has continued to surge. 200,000 acres of rice have come under the plough. An additional 75,000 tons of fish from the North and the East are now added to the market monthly. The government has committed $ 360 million to the development of the North, he said.
He also illustrated the business opportunities now available with the end of the conflict.
‘The revival of business confidence has been largely independent of government involvement’ although it ‘firmly encouraged these economic trends’. The Ambassador pointed out the record upward movement in the stock market (over 180% increase) and steady inward investment flows which reflect this confidence.
Inward tourism has rebounded by over 50% since January 2010 and there is interest from foreign investors, including large hotel chains such as Shangrila.
Ambassador Kohona added that minorities have continued to prosper in majority Sinhala areas of the country, including Colombo where many of the leading professionals in Colombo come from the minority communities and no restrictions exist on their lives, socially or economically.
With reference to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) he pointed out that it included representatives from the minorities as well and it is hoped that the LLRC will address the concerns expressed by interested persons, primarily with a view to facilitating the return to normalcy and helping the country to recover from its 27 year nightmare of terrorism. He added that the LLRC has, through a public notification, made it possible even for the SG’s Panel of Experts to make submissions before it.
Comments from Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and former United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake
Addressing the gathering Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and former United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake stated, ‘in the nearly two years since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka has made steady progress in normalizing life for its citizens and reconciling the differences that devastated parts of the island for so many years, but there is much that remains to be done’.
The end of the conflict has presented an incredible opportunity to build a peaceful, just, democratic, united Sri Lanka, he stated, adding, ‘in the spirit of friendship and partnership, the United States has not wavered in our support for the people of Sri Lanka , providing humanitarian and livelihood assistance as the country rebuilds itself’.
‘The U.S. is ready to continue helping the Sri Lankans to restore their country’.
‘It is clear to me that Sri Lanka has the potential to be one of South Asia’s bright spots. With 8 percent GDP growth last year, a renewed tide of visiting tourists to take in the country’s beautiful scenery and impressive history, and strong investor confidence, the country’s economy is on an upward trajectory. Sri Lanka has some of the best health and social indicators in Asia with one of the lowest infant mortality rates and highest literacy rates, 90 percent, in the region, for example. The country has a well-educated young population…’
He highlighted a few events and developments such as the hosting of the Cricket World Cup and IIFA-the Bollywood Oscars, that ‘would not have seen even two years ago’.
He added the US welcomed as an important step in this reconciliation process President Rajapaksa’s appointment of the LLRC, and the Interagency Advisory Committee.
‘We look forward to the final report to President Rajapaksa shortly after its work concludes in May. We hope that the report will be made public and will include strong recommendations for national reconciliation’, he said.
‘Ensuring peace and security for all Sri Lankans is essential. To this end the government has said it plans to strengthen firearms laws and to help law enforcement officials learn to speak the language of those they are charged with protecting. The government has hired 335 Tamil police officers and plans to recruit an additional 475 Tamil-speakers for inspector and constable positions. The trilingual national language policy also will be important in bringing Sri Lankans together’.
‘An increasing number of Sri Lankans displaced prior to 2008, including those who went as refugees to India, are also returning to their homes’, he said.
He pointed out that the Government, together with demining NGOs and U.S. support, has made ‘considerable progress’ in demining to accelerate resettlement, clearing over 5 million square meters of mine-infested land throughout the northern provinces of Sri Lanka , and destroying over 25,000 landmines and unexploded ordinance.
Sri Lanka is also proceeding with creating places for people to go home by reducing the area considered to be “High Security Zones”, which had restricted freedom of movement and access, he pointed out.
Interagency Advisory Committee (IAAC), set up to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC, has said that the high security zones have been reduced by 25 square kilometers, making some 2,800 homes accessible. In collaboration with international partners, the Government also has plans to construct an additional 100,000 homes in the north giving priority to families who suffered during the conflict, he said.
It is also important that the LLRC and the Advisory Committee, in consultation with Tamils and other minority communities, find a way to resolve the often conflicting and tangled claims to land in former conflict zones so families may rebuild their lives, he pointed out.
Blake added, ‘the U.S. is concerned, however, that some developments are shrinking the democratic space and respect for human rights in the country’.
Nearly two years after the conclusion of the fighting, substantial parts of the emergency regulations remain in place, the north continues to be heavily militarized, and the role of the armed forces appears to have increased with the Ministry of Defense assuming responsibility in non-traditional areas such as urban development, he said.
An unfettered media environment in which journalists can work without intimidation or interference, and incidents against journalists are credibly investigated and prosecuted, is essential for the reconciliation process, he added.
He also said that deaths during the conflict must be investigated and those who committed wrong-doing must be brought to justice.
I encourage Sri Lankans living overseas to respond to overtures from the Government of Sri Lanka and opportunities to promote development and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, he said in his concluding remarks, adding ‘the end of the conflict presents an opening for everyone that is a friend and partner of the country to help realize the dream of opportunity for all Sri Lankans’.