External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris opened a four-day, official visit to Washington, D.C. Tuesday with a series of meetings with key U.S. Senate leaders and a talk on Sri Lanka’s post-conflict redevelopment and reconciliation programs, emphasizing that lasting peace, stability and growth in Sri Lanka will be achieved through home-grown solutions, not those prescribed by the international community.
Nearly three years to the day that Sri Lanka defeated the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Prof. Peiris highlighted Sri Lanka’s accomplishments before a large and representative audience at a premiere Washington think-tank, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
“We are conscious of the opportunity that has now presented itself,” Minister Peiris said. “We also realize that the process that we have in mind must be a domestic process. It can’t be donor-driven or foreign-owned. That will be unhelpful in implementing the reforms that are required at this moment in history.
“At the end of the day, the solution that everyone wants has got to have a home-grown element to it.”
In that vein, Prof. Peiris noted that Sri Lanka is already adopting recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and that the government recently initiated a process to put the commission’s recommendations to work in “a meaningful way”, after extensive consultation with in the government.
Prof. Peiris said that Sri Lanka’s immediate goal after the conflict was the resettlement of those displaced by the fighting, as well as economic development to provide livelihoods and new infrastructure to the Northern region, which was “devastated by the atrocities of the LTTE.”
“Ninety-eight percent of the people who were displaced by the conflict have been resettled,” Minister Peiris said. “And they have not just been returned to their homes. We have seen to it that resettlement has occurred in an environment of confidence and satisfaction.”
Nearly all ex-LTTE combatants have also been returned to civil society after job and education training, he said. The government has placed a new emphasis on language training to ease communication and understanding among all its citizens.
Prof. Peiris also outlined the Sri Lankan government’s program to improve public services and regenerate important sectors in the Northern Sri Lankan economy, such as fishing and agriculture.
“We believe in reconciliation, but economic development is a crucial component of a wider reconciliation,” he said. “The economy of the Northern Province grew by 22 percent in 2011, while for the country as a whole it was 8.3 percent. This is the result of sustained and substantial investment and development in infrastructure in that part of the country.”
Earlier Tuesday, Minister Peiris met with Republican Senator. John McCain, from Arizona and former presidential candidate who is one of the U.S. Senate’s leading experts on terrorism and national security. The two discussed the defeat of the LTTE, economic stability and reconciliation, there commendations of the LLRC and Sri Lanka’s relationship with both India and China.
In a second Senate meeting with Democratic Senator Jim Webb, of Virginia, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Minister Peiris noted that reconciliation is Sri Lanka's main focus, along with the swift implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations acceptable to the government.
Senator Webb highlighted the history of the relationship between Sri Lanka to the United States, colonial rule and the importance of the institutions and rule of law that were established as a result.
Though Sri Lanka and the U.S already enjoy strong relations and trade ties, Prof. Peiris highlighted a number of paths for increased cooperation such as securing sea lanes against terrorism and piracy, expanded trade and the continuation of the existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement through tourism, agriculture, and transportation industry expansion.
At a meeting with Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee , Minister Peiris outlined Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts, and plans for future economic development.
Minister Peiris’ schedule for the week includes more meetings in Congress, with officials of the White House and on Friday, a session with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.