Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, January 20: Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs Mangala Samaraweera has outlined a series of steps President Maithripala Sirisena’s Government will undertake to achieve national reconciliation in the civil war-ravaged island-nation.
Talking to a select group of journalists here on Monday, he said the new government will demilitarise the Northern Province, order a domestic probe into the excesses reportedly committed during the last phase of the so-called Eelam War IV in 2009, and take suitable steps to provide relief and justice to victims of the civil war that tore the country apart for nearly three decades.
He also said the government will soon initiate a dialogue with the one-million-strong Sri Lankan diaspora scattered across the globe to seek its help to rebuild the North.
The minister expressed the hope that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will respond positively to President Sirisena’s invitation to join the government and actively participate in executing its plans to transform the country into an inclusive liberal democracy.
Samaraweera said the appointment of veteran diplomat HMGS Palihakkara as the civilian Governor of the Northern Province in place of one-time Jaffna military commander and Major General GA Chandrasiri, and the lifting of restrictions banning foreign nationals visiting former war zones are initial signals of what the government wants to do to achieve national reconicliation.
When I asked what the government plans to do at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva when the human rights situation in Sri Lanka will come up for discussion in March, he said the government will soon set up a domestic probe with UN assistance into what actually happened in the war zone in the months before the LTTE was militarily defeated by the security forces in May 2009.
He said he has summoned Sri Lankan envoys in Washington, New York and Geneva to Colombo to discuss this issue on Tuesday.
He dismissed apprehensions that such a probe may upset the majority community in the island, and said: “There is no question of anybody being upset by an honest domestic probe into the crimes the world community says were committed during the last stages of war.
“We owe it to those of our people who were wronged, who were displaced, and who were made to suffer. As an inclusive democratic government, we should try to provide justice, relief and compensation to all those who suffered,” Samaraweera declared.
When he made an appeal to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who fled the island during riots and civil war and living in India and other parts of the world to return home, a journalist said former LTTE cadres and banned Tamil terrorist groups may come back and make trouble again, the minister said nothing of the kind will happen.
He explained: “They all are our people. They left their homeland for certain reasons. We are now trying to set things right by running an inclusive government. For decades, we have been trying to achieve national reconciliation without success. People of all communities have voted our government to power. There is a consensus that we all must live together in peace and harmony.”
He said it was primarily to dissuade the Sinhalese from voting for the opposition that the previous regime tried to instil in their minds the fear that the LTTE will be reborn if drastic steps are not taken to put the Tamils down. I have met some of the people in London whose groups were banned by the earlier government. I do not believe that they are terrorists.”
Samaraweera said the government has been talking to the TNA. “We have invited them to join the government. We are looking forward to having them in the government, and to their active help and participation in achieving genuine national reconiciliation.”
He said there are already lots of proposals made to achieve national reconciliation, such as the Thimpu Proposals, the Mangala Moonesinghe Proposals, the CBK (Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga) Proposals, to name but a few. Who go for a new Parliament Select Committee? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
“All these years we failed to achieve national reconciliation because there was no political will. Now there is a political will. We are optimistic about pulling it off this time,” the minister asserted.