Lanka’s most intractable problem
UN at Geneva
from the Statement by Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of
Disaster Management and Human Rights at the High-Level
Segment of the 10th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Geneva, 2nd March, 2009
The challenges we face are many. As we overcome some of the stiffest
hurdles, new adversities rise up to meet us. This is a common phenomenon
in a fast-evolving conflict situation. But we are confident that we will
win the day, strengthened by our belief in democratic values and human
rights and, above all, by our dedication to a search for a stable peace
with honour and dignity for everyone.
For years, the most intractable problem we had to deal with in Sri
Lanka was terrorism. The conflict which erupted from time to time caused
much suffering to men, women and children of every ethnicity and
religion and linguistic group which go together to make up the richly
diverse Sri Lankan polity. Our Government is conscious that efforts
should have been made earlier to resolve what was a political conflict
by political means. This we are committed to doing. However, when there
was a serious attempt at such a solution in 1987, the intransigence of
just one group out of many led to terrorism taking on a central role.
Since then, despite many attempts by many Governments to reach a
negotiated consensus towards a durable peace, such negotiations were
abandoned continuously by the forces of terrorism. That scourge returned
redoubled in intensity after every attempt at negotiation by Government,
and it is only now that we are close to eradicating it from our island
But, just as no man is an island, even islands do not exist in
splendid isolation. Soon enough Sri Lanka’s terrorists came to be
globally acknowledged as a menace not only to Sri Lanka but to people in
many countries across several continents, through assassination, narco-terrorism
But we are grateful that at least some of the countries affected
have, by banning the terrorist organisation and striving to limit their
fundraising and other criminal activities, enabled Sri Lanka to finally
eliminate threats to her sovereignty and territorial integrity. But we
need your continuing cooperation and support to aid us to eliminate
terrorism and foster peace in our land, and a more peaceful polity too
for all or you.
This intense effort on our part, occurred as I have noted after
manifold efforts to seek a settlement through discussion. We tried
direct discussions in 1985 in Bhutan with all armed militant groups,
only to find that one of them took advantage of these discussions to
destroy the leadership of others.
When those talks then failed, after however the LTTE, the most
intransigent group, had immensely strengthened its own position, we
thought we had achieved a settlement with Indian support in 1987. When
that was subverted by the LTTE, admittedly helped in this by political
changes in both Sri Lanka and India, two of our Presidents personally
reached out to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1990 and in 1994
and talks were held in Colombo and in the Northern Peninsula. Finally,
with international facilitation we talked in several cities in Thailand
and Japan and Norway and even here in snowbound Switzerland, in the
period from 2002 to 2006.
Our efforts were all unsuccessful. On each of these occasions the
LTTE abandoned attempts to bring peace and ultimately returned to the
tactics they know best - the tactics of terrorism. In two instances they
used suicide bombers in attempts to kill the leaders they had negotiated
with, just as they had killed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India for
his pains in having negotiated a system of devolution acceptable to all
parties except the LTTE.
In 2006, the LTTE returned to negotiations from which they had
unilaterally withdrawn in 2003.
Whilst appearing sporadically at talks they tried to assassinate the
Army Commander by using a pregnant suicide bomber, and then launched two
massive attacks on our forces in the North and East of the country. It
was only after that that His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa
resolved that the right of self defence which was contained in the
Ceasefire Agreement of 2002, an Agreement violated nearly 4000 times by
the LTTE according to the Scandinavian Monitors, meant preventing such
sudden attacks by destroying the strongholds, the airstrips, the
arsenals, that had been built up during the Ceasefire period.
The people of Sri Lanka have, in successive elections, demonstrated
their support for his resolve to stay the course.
Thus today we are able to finally see the light at the end of the
long and dangerous tunnel through which we groped our way for more than
two decades. Our march to military mastery over the forces of terror has
not been easy. While our advances over the past two and a half years
have outstripped all expectations, we have had to rethink and refine our
strategies because of the intransigence of the LTTE in its refusal to
allow civilians to leave the theatre of conflict. Thus the progress of
our forces is slower now, in view of the even greater care that has to
be exercised with regard to civilians.
Earlier, when we declared a safe zone, the LTTE moved guns into the
area and used them without regard for civilians, as was indicated to us
by the Bishop of Jaffna, in asking our Government to extend the safe
zone. We have now declared a safe zone on the coast, which makes it less
easy for the LTTE to continue with its dastardly tactics, especially
since their last murderous cadres are restricted to an area of less than
forty square kilometres.
But, as Sir John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for
Humanitarian Affairs, stressed at the conclusion of his recent visit to
Sri Lanka, our primary concern must be the people now in the safe area
but not allowed to escape from there by the LTTE.
For this reason the United Nations and other international friends
and partners of Sri Lanka have joined us in the last few weeks in urging
the LTTE to let go of the civilians they are now holding by force. We
are glad about this, though we could have wished such calls had been
made categorically much earlier, when the tactics of the LTTE in
corralling these civilians as they withdrew were manifest. Our calls for
innocent Sri Lankans to be let free go back to September last year.
To be continued