Sri Lanka Ambassador to the US, Jaliya Wickramasuriya hosted a reception for a group of foreign correspondents recently at his residence, prompting a discussion of events in Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict against terrorism nearly three years ago.
The reception was the first in 2012 of the National Press Club’s Foreign International Correspondents Committee’s “Embassy Nights,” a series of meetings with ambassadors in Washington to discuss pressing international issues. It included correspondents from Al Jazeera, The Press Trust of India, Kyodo News, Reuters, Bloomberg and Mainchi Shimbun of Japan, and Voice of America, among others, as well as several travel and environmental writers.
Focusing on how Sri Lanka has pursued reconciliation and economic redevelopment following its decades long and ultimately successful conflict against terrorism, Ambassador Wickramasuriya outlined how the LTTE violated Sri Lankans’ human rights by cutting off water to Eastern Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he noted, then decided to end the long-running conflict with the LTTE.
That victory over the terrorist group LTTE created opportunities in Sri Lanka to revive regions damaged by the conflict, he said, as well as new economic opportunities.
“Since then, there have been no terrorist incidents in Sri Lanka, not one,” Ambassador Wickramasuriya said. “We are spending about $1 billion a year to rebuild the North, and we have launched an ambitious reconciliation program to right any past wrongs and to achieve a new dialogue and understanding among all our people. All Sri Lankans agree that we do not want terrorism to return.
“Today we have a strong economy and the future looks bright for all Sri Lankans. We have held successful parliamentary and regional elections, and parts of the North that haven’t had elected representatives for 26 years now have them. We believe that such a political solution will be the key to stability in the future, especially when combined with reconciliation and economic development.”
The correspondents asked about a variety issues that post-conflict Sri Lanka has experienced, including a question about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political popularity.
“The president was always for the people,” Ambassador Wickramsuriya said. “That is why he has remained so popular. He reaches out to people. He is with them.”
In that light, Sri Lanka is working to provide solutions to post-conflict issues, he said, including reconciliation and redevelopment.
“We will find a home-grown solution for ethnic concerns,” Ambassador Wickramasuriya said. “We will provide the solutions required by our countrymen.”
The correspondents also asked about human trafficking, press freedom and Sri Lanka’s strategic importance in the Indian Ocean and South Asia.
“Sri Lanka has dozens of media organizations, including newspapers, radio and television stations and internet new outlets,” the ambassador replied, “and you will find that they look critically at all issues. We enforce our human trafficking laws, and our position in the State Department’s annual trafficking report has improved to an upper tier that puts us above some other countries in our region and on same level as countries like Japan, Singapore and India.
We are working with other countries to help them and to help our citizens. Of course we are mindful of our place along vital ocean shipping lanes. We are a small country, and so we don’t have any enemies. We are non-aligned.”
Ambassador Wickramasuriya extended an open invitation to the correspondents to visit Sri Lanka and “see for yourself,” the progress that has been made since the May 2009 end of the LTTE conflict.
“Seeing is believing,” the ambassador said. “When people go to Sri Lanka they are amazed at what they find.”