Visiting UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State for Sri Lanka, Hugo Swire, travelled to Jaffna yesterday, 29 January, 2015. This was the Minister's first visit to Jaffna.
During this visit, the Minister met the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, Justice C V Wigneswaran and visited the British Council, a UK funded demining operation by the HALO Trust in Muhamalai, Elephant Pass and the Sabapathipillai welfare village.
"I am pleased to have visited Jaffna today. Northern Sri Lanka suffered much throughout the country's long conflict and the people there still face many challenges. This was part of the reason why Prime Minister David Cameron also prioritized visiting Jaffna when he was in Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013," Swire said commenting on his visit.
"Today I saw and heard several different aspects of the Northern Province's story. With the Chief Minister I discussed reconciliation and accountability, the role of the military, the prospects for a political settlement and ways in which the UK might assist. Seeing Elephant Pass was a strong reminder of how important it is that Sri Lanka should not succumb once again to conflict. "
Swire said he was pleased to donate books to the Jaffna library. While there, he met journalists to discuss press freedom and the pressures journalists have faced in the recent past. "The hope must be that press freedom will increase under the new Sri Lankan government," he said.
He also visited the Sabapathipillai welfare village which David Cameron visited in 2013. "Along with my team, I was pleased to gift shoes to all of the schoolchildren of the village - just in time for the new Sri Lankan school year! The welfare village remains, even nearly six years after the conclusion of the conflict. I encourage the new government of Sri Lanka to seek a long-term solution, allowing people to return, where possible, to their original land."
"My Northern Province visit also gave me the opportunity to see some of the good work being done by British organisations," he said.
Swire visited the British Council in Jaffna and met their team who carry out an invaluable service in teaching English language skills. In Muhamalai, he was shown some land being demined by the British charity, The HALO Trust. Clearing of mines and explosive ordinance to make land liveable again and carrying out mine risk education are an essential part of post-conflict activity - something the UK supports. Since 2009, the UK has contributed over five million pounds (approximately 9.9 billion rupees) towards this task in Sri Lanka, Swire said.