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Press Conference By Foreign Minister Of Sri Lanka

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

26 September 2007

Briefing the press at United Nations Headquarters in New York this morning, Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, highlighted the main points of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s statements to the General Assembly yesterday and Monday’s high-level event on climate change.

The Minister said that, as a developing island nation that had borne the brunt of the 2005 tsunami, Sri Lanka had a very special perspective on climate change. There was an imperative need for collective international action to address that threat, in addition to the new issues on the global peace agenda. Among the country’s main priorities were the eradication of terrorism, the promotion of human rights and ensuring economic development.

Regarding terrorism, he said that, confronted with one of the world’s most dangerous and brutal terrorist groups in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka had been in the forefront of efforts to build the legal infrastructure to combat terrorism, having made a proposal for collective efforts to prevent its spread in South-East Asia as far back as 1987. Only concerted international efforts could effectively combat the menace of terrorist groups, and Sri Lanka had been closely involved with the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate Terrorism, which it was currently chairing. The country endorsed the General Assembly President’s call for a comprehensive draft convention on terrorism.

While combating terrorism, the Government was well aware of the importance of promoting and protecting human rights, he continued. As one of the founding members of the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka believed that all human rights were universal, interrelated and indivisible, and gave equal weight to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development. “To those who point their fingers at us, we ask them to consider that Sri Lanka was one of the first developing countries to promote universal health and education, gender equality and social mobilization, despite combating terrorism,” he added.

Referring to the country’s “impressive social development status” and “exceptional socio-economic indicators”, which were better than those normally expected from a country in the lower middle-income range, he said Sri Lanka was, in fact, on the way to achieving or surpassing the Millennium Development Goals. Sri Lanka was open to all international human rights mechanisms and expected from them “impenetrable recommendations, rather than identifying fault and trying to pass judgement by forgetting that countries are at different stages of development”.

He said the President had also informed the Assembly that the Government had succeeded on the social, economic and political fronts. The Eastern Province had been cleared of terrorists, and law and order had been restored there. The Government wished to conduct local and provincial elections there, and had launched a massive reconstruction programme with the intention of making the area a model of post-conflict rehabilitation and development. While initiating the programme on its own, Sri Lanka would welcome the support and assistance of all donors, including the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Bogollagama said the President had also stressed that the Government had only launched military operations in order to exert pressure on the terrorists and convince them that they could not achieve a military victory. “Our goal remains a negotiated and honourable end to this unfortunate conflict.” The President had set up an all-party representative conference, which was working successfully to that end. The enormity of the task was demonstrated by the fact that the Government consisted of a 13-party coalition representing all communities and different political persuasions. The Government was pursuing the goal of a greater devolution of power at the provincial and district levels, and would shortly be in a position to announce its devolution proposals.

Asked about prospects for the resumption of peace negotiations, he said the Government was ready to resume the talks, but LTTE had failed in the past to respond to genuine efforts to resolve the conflict. Norwegian facilitators were now trying to restart the talks and, with greater pressure from the international community, the process could hopefully be revitalized soon.

Regarding the possibility of “a new ceasefire”, he said some 780 people had lost their lives since the signing of a previous ceasefire in 2002, and the country no longer needed “this so-called ceasefire on paper”. What Sri Lanka needed was sustainable peace. “We cannot tolerate LTTE to build up their capacity… We want to be more direct, more realistic. And we will encourage LTTE to stop the violence. And we will still maintain the law and order situation, the security of our nation.”

To several questions about a recent accusation by a senior Sri Lankan official that United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes was on the payroll of a terrorist organization, Mr. Bogollagama replied that the position expressed by the official in question was not the Government position, and that had been explained to Mr. Holmes.

Responding to a quote by Mr. Holmes that Sri Lanka was among the most dangerous places on earth for humanitarian workers, he said investigations were under way into the killings of aid workers in the country, including that in Muttur, “at a time when the city was under occupation”, in August 2006. In office for only 20 months, the Government was making its best efforts to bring the wrongdoers to justice, but, in some cases, the suspects had found safe haven in the areas under control of LTTE.

About the use of child soldiers, he said that, according to some reports, there were about 235 children with a group that had broken away from the LTTE. The Government was firmly pursuing a zero-tolerance policy on child recruitment and was committed to ensuring the protection for all children affected by the armed conflict. In fact, a committee had been set up to investigate the allegations.

Asked about the role of the United Nations in Sri Lanka, he replied that the Government was maintaining “a good dialogue” with the Organization. The country was seeking assistance for the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the Eastern Province, and an increased presence of development agencies in terms of humanitarian assistance and the development of livelihood projects. Development assistance to Sri Lanka had now reached $320 million for the next five years.

To a question about non-governmental organizations, the Minister emphasized their importance, saying they had come to Sri Lanka following the tsunami, and could provide meaningful, direct assistance to the people. “What we like, is for the benefit to flow to the people and to be associated with the people’s well-being,” he concluded.

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For information media • not an official record

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