Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the U.S., notes in speech that Sri Lanka is “Asia’s Oldest Democracy”

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, assured a capacity Georgie State University library crowd Monday that his nation’s recent victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists will ensure human rights and prosperity for all Sri Lankans, especially those harmed by a quarter century of conflict.

“Sri Lanka has no record of inflicting misery on fellow human beings for the purpose of empire building, commercial advantage or religious righteousness,” the Ambassador said during a speech sponsored by the university’s Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Atlanta. “It simply hasn’t been done. In fact, Sri Lanka has a strong democratic history. Ours is the oldest democracy in Asia.”

Ambassador Wickramasuriya spoke of his recent visit to Sri Lanka, which just a month ago concluded its conflict with the LTTE by rescuing 145,000 civilian hostages and dismantling the remaining LTTE leadership.

"There are really two Sri Lankas,” the Ambassador said. “One is the country you read or hear about in America, Europe and Canada. The other is the Sri Lanka I just visited, which is more dynamic."

Sri Lanka today is housing 295,000 people displaced by the conflict in temporary shelters within government welfare centers. Those civilians have access to food, medical and education services. Ambassador Wickramasuriya explained the government’s plan to rapidly return the displaced civilians most of whom are Tamil to their homes in northern Sri Lanka.

But first, he said, those villages and communities must be cleared of landmines planted by the retreating LTTE.

"It would be criminal to send people back to villages and land riddled with mines," said Ambassador Wickramasuriya, adding the threat is also why journalists haven't been welcomed to the conflict area.

Eight Sri Lankan soldiers have lost their lives or limbs in recent days during the effort to clear the conflict zone, a small sliver of beach where the LTTE made its final stand.
Now that the fighting is over, the Ambassador said that Sri Lanka has launched an “ambitious” plan to rebuild the north, which was previously under LTTE control. Those plans include repairs and new construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, 80,000 homes, as well as water and sewer facilities. Already the government is working to repair the sources of two primary irrigation systems in the rural north.

Sri Lanka resettled about 180,000 civilians in just eight months in the nation’s Eastern Province after government troop’s wrested control of the region from the LTTE in 2007.
Ambassador Wickramasuriya said the government will also move quickly in the north, resettling displaced civilians within 180 days.

During his 20 minute speech and 50 minutes of questions and answers, the Ambassador thanked Georgia State University and its Center for Human Rights and Democracy for hosting the first in a series of university talks on human rights and democracy. He also thanked Dean Lauren Adamson and Doctor Unil Perera and William Downs for arranging the discussion.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

16 June 2009


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