| HON PRIME MINISTER'S SPEECH
AT THE 57TH UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY -18 SEPTEMBER 2002
1. Let me begin by conveying, on behalf of the Sri Lanka Delegation,
our sincere felicitations on your election as the President of
this 57th Session of the General Assembly and assurances of our
2. I would also like to express appreciation for the exemplary
manner in which Dr. Han Seung-Soo, Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Korea guided the work of the 56th Session.
3. We warmly welcome Switzerland and East Timor as new members
of the organization.
4. Our discussions and debates in this Assembly often reach heady
heights and seek grand objectives, but ultimately they are about
the future lives, the well-being and security of the people we
are privileged to represent.
5. It is with such thoughts in my mind that I recall the horrendous
events of September 11th last year which claimed the lives of
so many Americans and people of other nationalities, from all
over the world. As we are only too painfully aware, they are not
the only victims of terror.
6. The attack confirmed what we in Sri Lanka have long known
- that terrorism had also long been globalized. As President Bush
acknowledged: "September 11th was not the beginning of global
terrorism: it was the beginning of the World's concerted response."
7. We, in Sri Lanka, perhaps know better than most the tragedies
that conflict and terrorism create. My own country has been ravaged
by a twenty year conflict. It has caused over 65,000 deaths. 800,000
are internally displaced. Tragic stories abound. Children who
will never see their fathers return home, mothers who have lost
their sons, and children who, even today innocently, fatally step
on anti personnel mines. I have talked to the disabled soldiers
and the dispossessed, the people who have no homes, and those
who return to the North-East to find war torn ruins and once productive
fields sown with landmines.
8. The election victory last December of the Government I represent,
was a clear national mandate to end the conflict in the North-East.
The Government has since moved swiftly towards the fulfillment
of this mandate. A ceasefire with the LTTE group was signed on
22nd February this year. The ceasefire has held. Confidence building
measures have encouraged the free movement of people throughout
the country and have revived economic activity. Peace talks with
the LTTE, facilitated by Norway, commenced two days ago in Sattahip,
Thailand. The LTTE has been unilaterally de-proscribed by the
Sri Lanka Government to facilitate the talks, to give peace a
chance and the LTTE a chance for peace.
9. A flexible approach is necessary in the negotiations - a warm
heart and a cool head. An understanding of the other side, their
aspirations and their concerns is essential. Negotiations are
complex and will take time.
10. In the early stages of our talks with the LTTE, we are trying
to resolve some of the immediate practical needs of the people
that can bring relief and normalcy to our society. Economic re-construction
and development of the affected areas will be a deciding factor
in sustaining the momentum of political negotiations. Development
is part of the healing process in a wounded, divided society.
The pressing day-to-day problems of the people need to be settled
as early as possible. Indeed at the discussions in Thailand, there
was strong endorsement of the urgent need for resources to ensure
early dividends of the peace process. The role played by Norway
in facilitating this process, and most recently, at the peace
talks is deeply appreciated. I extend my sincere thanks to them
for all their efforts.
11. Already, following the ceasefire, there are signs of people
enjoying their re-discovered freedom. The people want more. Exchange
visits between school children and other groups from the south
and north and vice-versa have revealed to many that the 'other
side' is not so different after all. Last week, our capital, Colombo,
came to a standstill as people from all over the country, from
every religion and every ethnic group in society flocked to a
12. These are all encouraging signs. But, with them comes a risk.
The imperative for peace is growing. The people demand peace and
the politicians and negotiators on both sides had better deliver.
Peace is people driven. The conflict had dragged our economy to
near bankruptcy and last year, for the first time in independent
Sri Lanka, we recorded negative growth. Resources must flow into
developing the areas ravaged by war. Opportunities should be created.
The momentum of growth must be re-established. The people want
to see normalcy restored. Nor tomorrow, but today. The farmers
want their damaged irrigation canals repaired today - their harvest
cannot be delayed until the final agreement is reached. This imperative
is driven ever - more by young people - among Sri Lankan armed
forces and LTTE cadres whose weapons lie silent. Without international
support and help with resources to build a peace dividend, the
gloss on peace can be dulled. With the re-creation of opportunities
for people and for growth, politicians and negotiators will be
driven even harder to stabilize, advance and sustain the peace.
13, From there, we can approach the complex constitutional issues.
Those questions will take time. Yet, we believe that the way forward
is through a clearly representative interim administration within
a united Sri Lanka in which the rights of all communities, Tamil,
Muslim and Sinhalese are safeguarded. This allows us to carry
forward an initiative to empower local people by decentralizing
governmental authority and establishing five regional economic
development zones. Through such initiatives, we intend to encourage
local people to be responsible for driving economic growth in
their own regions. These measures, along with the liberalization
and de-regulation of our economy will generate wealth.
14. Meanwhile, an immediate security dimension is pressing. Hundreds
of thousands of mines need to be removed from tracts of land to
make it safe and arable for the internally displaced persons to
return to their homes and farms. Sri Lanka is reviewing its position
on the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines with a view to
becoming party to it as confidence in peace accrues. We are grateful
for the help we are receiving from the UN, members of the International
Community and NGOs, in our de-mining programme.
15. My Government is resolved to ensure that the people of the
North and East of our Republic should also enjoy the same security,
the same quality of life, democratic governance and human rights
which people in other parts of the country enjoy. Sri Lanka has
a high rating on the Human Development Index of the UNDP with
our per capita income figures, our life expectancy and our literacy
amongst the highest in the region. Peace will enhance all this
further, but its dividend must be credited to all the shareholders
in Sri Lanka's future.
16. Sri Lanka welcomes the support our peace process has received
from members of the International Community and the United Nations.
On a request made by me to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a UN
Inter-agency Needs Assessment Team visited Sri Lanka in April-May
this year. The team reached a strategic overview of the current
situation that can guide immediate, mid to long term action by
UN Agencies in Sri Lanka. We thank the Secretary-General for his
17. To quicken the pace of peace and to have its dividends credited
directly and urgently to the people is imperative. We are grateful
for all those who are assisting us in Quick Impact Projects. The
implementation of these projects without delay will help peace
take root, involve people in the affected areas in their economic
and social recovery and ease the way for higher stages of development.
18. Throughout its long history, there have been flattering descriptions
of Sri Lanka - centuries before our Tourist Board promoted the
serenity of the island. The ancient Arabs and medieval Europeans
called our island "Paradise". If in the course of our
recent conflict, some of the quality of Paradise has been lost,
then surely Paradise must be regained. "Regaining Sri Lanka"
is much more than a slogan, it is a practical, do-able strategy
in which we invite the International Community to participate.
19. While seeking a negotiated solution to our own conflict,
Sri Lanka strongly supports negotiating a settlement of the Israel-Palestine
conflict. We have long supported a responsible peace process which
would lead to the acceptance of two States, Israel and Palestine,
prospering in conditions of peace and security, as neighbours,
under secure and recognized borders. We urge the resumption of
a serious dialogue between Israel and Palestine as a prelude to
20. In Sri Lanka, dialogue and negotiations are turning around
a long-drawn out conflict. For those who were responsible for
September 11th, the approach needs to be different. No cause justifies
the killing of innocent people. Global Terrorism must be eradicated
in whatever manifestation, and wherever it occurs.
21. We support a comprehensive approach to international terrorism
through the UN Ad-Hoc Committee on Terrorism. Terrorism has affected
virtually all the countries of South Asia. A meeting in Sri Lanka
will soon draft an additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention
on the Suppression of Terrorism. The Protocol would update the
Convention, inter-alia, to meet the obligations devolving on member
States in respect of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 and the
International Convention for the Suppression of Financing for
22. The United Nations has been a source for good since its inception.
It is the forum in which complex, competing and even confrontational
concerns have an opportunity for interaction and possible reconciliation.
Under the UN Secretary-General's initiative of the Global Impact,
it provides for the launching and navigation of positive partnerships
between the corporate and state sectors.
23. We also look forward to the implementation of decisions taken
at the UN Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey.
We welcome the Millennium Challenge Account as an outcome of that
Conference to assist countries committed to democratic norms and
good governance, the engagement of the private sector and the
involvement of the people in the process of development.
24. In Sri Lanka, we intend to re-establish an investment friendly
country with an efficient bureaucracy and a thriving private sector.
On this visit to the United States, I have brought a team from
our industrial sector to talk to American businessmen. We are
grateful to the United Nations for helping my government to organize
an Investment Promotion Forum in the United States tomorrow with
the participation of members of our private sector who will interact
with their counterparts here. These close encounters of the business
kind will provide insight into the opportunities for collaborative
economic and development ventures in Sri Lanka as we move forward
on the peace front. Investment in peace makers sound political
and economic sense for both Sri Lanka and its partners abroad.
Growth in Sri Lanka will be good for everyone.
25. Across Sri Lanka, the people continue to build the only true
peace we can hope for. Without fanfare, without politicians or
the media, they are quietly going about their business, finding
old friends and building new relationships. The mis-trust and
suspicion are slowly melting away as people talk and share past
experiences. The hatred in some hearts will take a little longer
to dispel. But, even that will be overcome in time by the deep
desire for weapons to be destroyed, mines to be cleared and the
sound of laughter to be heard once again.
26. Trusting the people, whether it be for the consolidation
of peace or the pursuit of development is the best policy. We
are beholden to the people we work for: whether they be clients,
or customers or shareholders or voters.