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.

Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

24 May 2009


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