AMBASSADOR THANKS SRI LANKANS FOR THEIR
SUPPORT IN FIGHT FOR UNITY, CALLS FOR RECONCILIATION
A week ago, the guns fell silent upon the island
nation of Sri Lanka. After 26 years of treacherous war, the nation’s
conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has finally
come to an end. The moment has arrived for all Sri Lankans to
reflect upon the past and the future. The LTTE has been finally
defeated and hopefully expunged. We can now live in our homeland
with a sense hope and security.
In the aftermath of war, the difficult work to
achieve peace must begin. The bitterness that this conflict has
left among Sri Lankans must be overcome. It is time to show the
world Sri Lanka’s capabilities and determination to rebuild
our nation and show that our island nation with its people from
various ethnic and religious backgrounds can come together as
brothers and sisters to heal and prosper.
What does it mean to be Sri Lankan? Each person
has his/her own definition. And, in the past, the conflicts that
have divided the nation have made us doubtful. But, it is a time
to recognize that the future is a singular one in which through
understanding, differences can be conquered.
Let me take a moment to commend those who have
already done so much. I want to offer praise and thanks to those
Sri Lankan/American citizens who came to the United States many
years ago, and to those who have arrived more recently. You have
been working hard to actively protect Sri Lanka in a myriad of
ways. It is not easy to stay involved when you move abroad, but
the energy and commitment you have shown has been remarkable.
Your meetings with policymakers and opinion leaders, your writings
and blogging efforts, and your unwavering commitment to meet negative
publicity have made a tremendous difference.
I also want to thank those of you who have lent
your professional expertise and financial resources to Sri Lanka’s
cause. Furthermore, we have received a great deal of volunteers
offering their technical assistance here at the embassy, and your
generosity has been demonstrated once again in our recent drive
to raise supplies and funds for the hundreds of thousands displaced
by the war.
The whole world is now watching us. It has spent
the better part of this year criticizing our efforts to take back
our country. Even when our military forces successfully rescued
more than 160,000 innocent lives who were held hostage at gunpoint
by the LTTE -- a first wave in last April and another 50,000 since
Thursday -- we were berated.
Now the world will see us carry on our work for peace. In recent
days, some larger powers have called for a political solution
to the conflict. Ironically, our own government did that several
years ago when it offered the LTTE amnesty and a place at the
democratic table as part of Sri Lanka. That ideal was handily
rejected in a greedy quest for more.
Now we must look past lost opportunities and
renew that political initiative. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has
already launched an ambitious plan to rebuild the North. He has
appointed a 19-member presidential task force to direct this year-long
program. This plan involves the reconstruction of roads, bridges,
water and sanitation services, a rail line to the North, vocational
centers, schools and hospitals and at least 80,000 homes all of
which the LTTE has destroyed.
De-mining will be extensive. Our forces discovered
that the LTTE have mined numerous villages as they retreated into
their Northeastern redoubt. It is unsafe to let civilians back
to their homes until we know that their environs will be secure
for them and their children. For this work, we have already asked
for international assistance.
Rebuilding will require political leadership.
Local leaders will have to emerge to direct the efforts toward
those projects that are most in need. Communities will have a
voice as the damages from the conflict are discarded and replaced
with real, lasting assets for their livelihoods. The people in
the North and also those in other parts of Sri Lanka will return
to live in peace and prosper as their wills dictate.
For post-conflict Sri Lankans living in the United
States, what will the new mission be?
Unity. We will recognize our differences but realize that common
good is far greater. We must come together to continue to meet
with members of Congress and local politicians, write for local
publications and lobby hard to make sure that Sri Lanka’s
interests are not shortchanged. Since many in the community have
already taken part in these endeavors, the transition to post-conflict
campaigning should not be difficult.
Please use the embassy staff as a clearinghouse
of information and activity. We can tell you how to get involved
to help Sri Lanka, and who you can work with in the community.
President Rajapaksa has encouraged Sri Lankans
- our engineers, doctors, accountants and other professions living
in various countries abroad, to return to Sri Lanka and contribute
to its development.
Many have lost their lives and loved ones because
of this long fight. Our hearts go out to the families of soldiers
who have suffered losses, and to those who have suffered through
terrorism during the past 26 years.
We all hope that those days are behind us. We
have the opportunity to consider life in Sri Lanka on different
terms. We must make the most of it, beginning today.
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States
Embassy of Sri Lanka
24 May 2009