President Makes Promises Following Ban’s Visit

The issue of civilian land being held by the military in the North and East seems to be heading towards a final solution following the visit to Sri Lanka by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week.

President Maithripala Sirisena told a group of newspaper Editors and media heads on Friday that the government’s intention is to return the remaining privately-owned lands in the North to the rightful owners within the next three months.

He said that while vast extents of land have been returned to the original owners, State land is to be given to those who are landless and living in welfare centers or with friends and relatives.

The President also accused extremist Tamil elements of attempting to prevent the land issue from being resolved.

“When the government allotted land to the people, these elements told them not to accept those lands as these extremist elements want the problems to continue as that would suit their ulterior motives,” he said.

Ban Ki-moon, on Friday, urged the government to release civilian land held by the military.

He also urged Sri Lanka to speed up the return of land so that the remaining communities of displaced people can return home.

In parallel, he said, the size of the military force in the North and East could be reduced, helping to build trust and reduce tensions.

He made the remarks at an event on sustaining peace and achieving the sustainable development goals.

The UN Chief said that following the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009, much has been done but yet more remains.

“This is my first visit to Sri Lanka since 2009, when I saw great suffering and hardship. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and in need of humanitarian aid after the terrible conflict that tore the country apart. I called for fast reconciliation and action to build peace, in the knowledge that conflict can recur in fragile post-war societies,” he said.

Ban said that the government that took office last year, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, set out an ambitious reform programme and has made significant progress in implementing it.

“I congratulate the government and people of Sri Lanka on passing the 19th Constitutional Amendment and the recent Right to Information Act. I commend your efforts to move forward on a comprehensive transitional justice agenda, and on a constitutional reform process,” he said.

Ban said that more can and should be done to address the legacy of the past and acknowledge the voices of the victims.

He said Sri Lanka is still in the early stages of regaining its rightful position in the region and the international community.

On Thursday Ban Ki-moon held talks with President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s House in Colombo.

The two leaders discussed about the ongoing development programmes, the progress of the programmes being implemented to strengthen reconciliation and the process of constitutional reforms.

The President briefed the visiting UN Secretary General about the steps taken by the Government with regard to constitutional reforms, devolution and structural reforms. He explained the steps taken by the Government for resettlement and rehabilitation, release of land to the original owners and livelihood development.

President Sirisena said that he is looking forward to attend the UN General assembly later this month to use the international forum for furthering Sri Lanka’s global interaction.

Ban Ki-moon expressed appreciation over the progress made by Sri Lanka in different spheres over the last one and half years and assured continuous assistance and support from the United Nations Organisation for the efforts of the government.

He said that during his visit to Galle today he could witness the progress achieved in various fields. He added that he held a dialogue with the people, especially the youth and expressed his satisfaction of the free and friendly atmosphere.

Meanwhile Ban Ki-moon also urged Sri Lankan youth to appreciate diversity in unity. Ban Ki-moon together with his wife, Mrs. Ban Soon-Taek, visited Galle to attend an event titled ‘Reconciliation and Coexistence: Role of Youth’, organised by the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) – Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), and the United Nations in Sri Lanka.

The UN Secretary General urged the youth to work together with young people from different neighbourhoods, ethnic groups or religions.

He also urged then to share their vision for a sustainable and peaceful future for this country and for our planet.

Prior to his arrival in Sri Lanka it was reported that Ban Ki-moon may discuss the issue of having foreign judges in Sri Lanka’s domestic accountability process on the war.

Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Stéphane Dujarric had said that the UN chief will address a number of issues related to justice and accountability.

“It’s a forwardlooking message of the need for, obviously, for accountability, for reconciliation, and for development.  And that the UN will be there with the Sri Lankan people to help… to help them on their road forward,” Dujarric said when asked about Ban Ki-moon’s Sri Lanka visit.

At the invitation of the Government, the Secretary-General accompanied by Mrs Ban Soon-taek, visited Sri Lanka last week where he met with President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and other members of the government and of the Parliament.

The Secretary-General visited Jaffna on Friday where he had talks with the Tamil National Alliance and also met war displaced families.

During the visit, the Secretary-General also met with several Cabinet Ministers including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera; the Speaker of the Parliament Karu Jayasuriya and Political Party Leaders; and civil society representatives.

At the invitation of the Chairperson and Board of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), the Secretary-General also spoke at an event in Colombo on ‘Sustaining Peace – Achieving Sustainable Development Goals’, focusing in particular on Goal 16, namely, the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.