SPEECH BY THE HON. RANIL WICKREMESINGHE, PRIME MINISTER OF
SRI LANKA AT THE WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR SCHOLARS:
WASHINGTON DC - 23 JULY 2002
Mr, Chairman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre
for Scholars and distinguished members, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address you on the
issue of terrorism and peace on which both your nation and mine
have suffered so tragically in recent times.
In its most violent form terrorism means death. The death of
innocent people whether they are those who were so brutally sent
to their death in the World Trade Centre on September 11, or those
innocent civilians who perished in the bombing of the Central
Bank Colombo in January 1996.
What the atrocity on September 11 showed us was that terrorism
is now a global phenomenon.
We grieved deeply with the people of the United States as we
saw the twin towers collapse, and we mourned with the people of
the world as the death toll showed its global reach. Many people
in our small island were reminded of the violent ways in which
their own loved ones had been removed from them.
But our grief and our Sympathy turned into resolve. We continue
that resolve by pledging our unwavering support for your efforts
to ensure a world tree of terrorism.
Mr, Chairman, global terrorism respects no borders and gives
no quarter. It can appear anywhere at any time and the destructive
ingenuity of the terrorist continues to dumbfound saner men.
For sure there is nothing about international terrorism that
we can or should condone. No cause justifies the use of terror
against innocent people. Nevertheless we have to look at the underlying
grievance, which ignite, and fuel terrorism to be able to understand
how to fight the common enemy.
Look at any place that terrorism raises its head and you will
find poverty, injustice, insecurity and fear. The evil in a few,
feeds on the fears of the many which are exploited to build a
web of destruction.
To be sure that we defeat terrorism we clearly need a two pronged
The international terrorist is not really moved and motivated
by these injustice, for him the driving force is evil. A personal
political agenda led by a malevolent heart. These are the people
who have to be pursued and destroyed. Against these people, the
military option seems to be the only choice.
But there is another form of terrorism connected to armed struggle
and guerilla warfare. This is a terrorism which emerges from a
national context, with no direct links at first to the global
Today in Sri Lanka we are attempting to find a solution to this
form of terrorism. That is where the other approach may come into
This other approach comes when we look at those root causes and
see that terrorism is feeding off poverty, insecurity and perceived
Some of the affirmative actions taken by successive governments
in Sri Lanka in favour of the majority Sinhalese who discriminated
under the Colonial Rule already affected the Tamil people
for example the use of their language, opportunities for education
and employment. Leaders failed to deliver equal justice and equity
in fair measure among the communities.
A whole community was alienated by the injustices they felt and
experienced. For two decades the mainstream political parties
were unable to resolve the issues affecting the Tamils. The Tamils
tried peaceful protest which soon degenerated into violence. With
the underlying grievances being unattended the stage was set for
terrorist groups to emerge. Whatever the causes, the reality became
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE.
Most of you I this distinguished audience have an idea of the
chain of events that make up the mounting tragedy of Sri Lanka.
Earlier this month, Senator Lugar submitted a draft resolution
encouraging the peace process in Sri Lanka. This has been referred
to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It captures some
of the elements of our tragedy in language which the US public
and political leadership can readily appreciate. The resolution
refer to the long valued political pluralism, religious
freedom, democracy and respect for human rights that the
Sri Lankan people have enjoyed. It refers to the estimated 65,000
deaths on account of the 19-year conflict and the almost 1 million
displaced persons over the course of the conflict. In respect
of Sri Lankas population of 19 million these statistics
are grim. Related hypothetically for instance to the current population
of this country of 284 million, our figures would translate to
972,000 deaths and 15 million displaced in the US. Viewed from
this perspective the US can appreciate the profound effects of
the conflict on our people.
To make peace is perhaps more difficult and complex than to make
war. My Government, which won the Sri Lanka General Elections
in December last year on a mandate to end the North-East conflict,
has sought a different course of action.
We entered into a permanent ceasefire with the LTTE on 23rd February
this year. From this we hope to move to peace talks in the near
Discussing the ceasefire before the Parliament of Sri Lanka on
4th April, I recalled the words of Abraham Lincoln on the American
Civil War. let us strive on to finish the work we are in,
to bind up the nations wounds. Our collective character
and resolve as a nation and society will be tested and challenged
at every turn. Nevertheless I have confidence and a realistic
sense of optimism that this time we shall consolidate the peace
that has been initiated and sustain its momentum.
I believe this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, as I said in Parliament, all citizens of Sri Lanka are
stakeholders in the peace process Sinhalese, tamils, Muslims and
others are in a sense, shareholders in this national enterprise:
dividends will be declared for all except for a few merchants
of death who will be the only losers. Our peoples yearning
for peace is deep.
Secondly, we build on our past experiences. There is a continuum
which animates our efforts. We frankly acknowledge the mistakes
of the past as well as the problems that lie ahead in the future.
We have benefited by the positive steps taken by past Governments.
We have for example, continued with the help provided by the Norwegian
Government in facilitating the peace process. The Norwegians who
were initiated in to the process by President Kumaratunga have
been pivotal in helping to build trust between the two sides and
the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission manned by Scandinavian nationals
has been invaluable in monitoring the Ceasefire Agreement.
Thirdly, we acknowledge that we need bipartisan support. The
Opposition parties must be partners in the national endeavour.
This should no t be undermined by narrow sectoral and partisan
diversions. The situation that exists in Sri Lanka today is not
unlike that which characterized France sometime back. The need
for co-habitation has been stressed Cooperation is not an option.
It is an imperative in the national interest. We need to overcome
what in Parliament I called, the parochial opportunistic and divisive
politics that often overwhelms a united national outlook.
Fourthly, the human element in the peace process has been given
primary importance. The Ceasefire Agreement addresses a number
of day to day problems faced by the Tamil community it facilitates
the free movement of people and goods throughout the country.
It would present the people of the North and East also, with the
opportunity of freely engaging in their livelihood, be it farming,
fishing , government service or business. All Sri Lankans need
to be given access to the same quality of life regardless of race,
sex, religion or where in the Republic they live.
The intersections and synergy between peace and development are
well known. As the conflict ceases and the guns fall silent, peace
will be on trial. The conflict has damaged the economic strength
of many communities in the North and East and in villages in the
adjacent areas, affecting the lives of people of all communities:
Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim. It is essential that the torn fabric
of their lives and their sense of dignity and self reliance are
once again restored. But the war has also had disastrous effects
on our total national economy through its implications for foreign
investment, tourism and our capacity to produce and export. Sri
Lanka has the highest per capita income figures in the region,
but more needs to be done to deliver the benefits to all of our
We have already commenced the arduous process of economic recovery.
Economic reconstruction is in many respects part of the process
of political healing in a polarized society. It is vital to consolidate
in economic and social terms. Each small step we take on the path
of peace. While the ultimate responsibility for equitable economic
development lies with the people of Sri Lanka, we need the support
and assistance of the international community, not so much in
the form of handouts, but rather to enable the provision of opportunities
for our peoples sense of enterprise and innovation to bear
fruit, in the immediate context as well as in the long term post-conflict
situation. We take comport from the help given by the United States
Sri Lanka liberalized its economy as early as the mid 1970s-
the first in South Asia to provide space and encouragement for
individual initiative. Today we are implementing a far reaching
economic recovery programme that will result in an increase in
the rate of the economic growth. Our economy will be more open
and free in its linkages with the rest of the world.
That means eliminating the barriers that inhibit rapid productively,
investment flows, and fuller employment throughout the Sri Lanka
economy. Our poverty reduction programme is about to be launched
and we are moving ahead with our economic recovery programme.
If we are to achieve higher economic growth, this must be based
on increased investment and some of our key reforms are aimed
at significantly improving the environment for foreign investment.
The interventions and heavy regulatory burdens that have limited
economic performance in the past are being rapidly removed. Our
commercial legal framework will be further strengthened to provide
the foundation for successful economic development.
If we carry out all of these measures, we build a strong economy,
we create real worthwhile jobs and we make poverty a thing of
the past. Then we shall have removed one of the most potent root
causes for terrorism in our country.
I have talked about the need for confidence building. When wee
feel confident to proceed to the next stage, that of negotiations,
we shall have achieved a great deal in bringing ourselves and
the LTTE closer through greater understanding.
This process will not be easy. The more the ceasefire agreement
is being adhered to the fewer the accusations of human rights
abuses and the less inflammatory the language between the two
sides. This would make it easier for us to take those critical
decisions that will bring Sri Lanka closer to normalcy, returning
to a peaceful, prosperous society where all communities live in
harmony, free of terrorism.
We view these negotiations with a warm heart and a cool head.
We wish to bring our communities back together in ethnic harmony
whilst keeping our guard up.
While talking we must continue to address the underlying grievances,
which bred terrorism in our country. We are a nation with many
different ethnic groups and religions. That provides diversity
and wealth that we should use to our advantage not be a cause
for division and mistrust.
As the confidence building continues and as the communities draw
themselves back closer together, as they once were, then we can
start to address the perceived injustices that have divided us
in the past.
Already we are working to see that north, south, east and west
of the country get equal treatment and a fair share of the plans
we have for the future. The inequalities in this day and age can,
and will be ironed out through a stronger collective resolve.
The question of language today is less of an issue and more readily
resolvable. The opportunities for education for all are very much
part of our economic development plans and the prospects for jobs
will improve as our programme moves into action.
The old injustices of yesterday will seem irrelevant in the Sri
Lanka we intend to build tomorrow. Our aim is to bring all our
people together in social harmony, working as a nation within
the world community. That way we in Sri Lanka will have moved
the cause against global terrorism forward on small, but significant,
step. Whenever a situation of terrorism rising from a basically
national, local context is resolved, we are that much closer to
winning the fight against international terrorism and ultimately
to the establishment of a world free of terrorism. President Woodrow
Wilson, whose memory this Center honours spoke of the right of
all peoples to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with
one another whether they be strong or weak Our approach
is based on similar principles.
I would like to think that our present goal of building peace
in Sri Lanka and our contribution to the making of a world free
from terrorism would have met with his lasting approval.