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22 February, 2006 - Published 12:48 GMT

Address by head of GOSL team

Opening Statement by Hon. Minister Nimal Siripala de
Silva, Head of Delegation, Government of Sri Lanka

at the opening session of the talks between Government
of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, 22 February 2006.


Hon. Minister Erik Solheim and the Facilitation team,
Mr. Anton Balasingham and members of the LTTE
delegation,
Colleagues,

I. Introduction

On behalf of H.E. the President of the Republic of Sri
Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri
Lanka, I am pleased to make these preliminary comments
at the commencement of the talks between the
Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, facilitated by
the Royal Norwegian Government and hosted by the
Government of Switzerland. At the outset, let me
thank all the parties, including the Co-Chairs, who
have worked tirelessly to make this event a reality.

At this stage, I would also like to express the hope
of the Government and the People of Sri Lanka that
these discussions will mark a significant chapter in
the dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and
the LTTE. It is also our wish that this dialogue
would form the basis of a meaningful ceasefire where
the beneficiaries of it would be all the People of Sri
Lanka.

An analysis of successful negotiations worldwide would
perhaps establish the fact that successes have
resulted on occasions where parties to the conflict
have had the courage, dedication and determination to
pursue a solution through a continuous process of
dialogue with sincerity. We should keep in mind that
no issue is insurmountable, if the interests of the
People and the Country are kept uppermost in our
minds. Accordingly, it is our desire to express our
views in a frank and forthright manner, rather than to
make vague and ambiguous statements that would serve
no useful purpose, although they may appear more
acceptable on the surface.

As we all know, H.E. the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
was elected on a platform of seeking an “honorable
peace.” On that basis, our delegation affirms and
emphasizes the position of the Government of Sri Lanka
that the Ceasefire Agreement entered into between the
then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mr. V. Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE on the 22nd
February 2002 is contrary to our Constitution and law. Furthermore, it is prejudicial to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that certain benefits flowed to the People from the observance of the ceasefire, which resulted in our strong determination and desire to preserve the ceasefire.
We also consider the ceasefire as a first step to
arrive at a negotiated settlement to the ongoing
conflict and we propose to rectify certain grave
anomalies arising from the agreement.

Since assuming office, our President has at various
times and occasions extended invitations to begin a
dialogue with the LTTE. Furthermore, our Government
has been keen that the overall process of discussion
and dialogue should be of an inclusive nature since it
affects the whole Nation. We take pride in the fact
that the Government’s participation at these talks in
Geneva is with the support and goodwill of all the democratically elected political parties in Sri Lanka.
The discussions at the All Parties Conference held
over the past few weeks resulted in the consensus that
we initiate this dialogue with the LTTE. These
discussions also served to prepare a common platform
for the dialogue that we are commencing today with
renewed hopes and expectations. This fact is
significant since it is the first time in the history
of this conflict that such a consensus has been
reached. Therefore, I am privileged and honored to
lead the Government's delegation that is in Geneva
today with the strong support from the Peoples'
representatives of Sri Lanka.

II. A Fresh Approach

H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to
office on 17th November 2005 with a mandate from the
Nation to work towards the achievement of an
honourable peace. The Mahinda Chintana, which
encapsulates the President's vision for the country,
makes it clear that the President has recognized the
need for a direct dialogue with the LTTE, in the
pursuit of such a goal. He has even stated that he is
prepared to meet with the Leader of the LTTE and other representatives for such discussions. Notwithstanding the clear enunciation of such a position, it was unfortunate that upon assumption of office, H.E. the President was confronted with a number of acts which would easily qualify as being highly provocative. Such acts had the potential to disturb and deflect us from the path of dialogue and discussion. However, our President with his deep commitment to peace, reacted with patience and restraint to contain the tension that resulted from these acts of provocation and hostilities.

This enlightened response was certainly not a sign of
weakness, but a display of our firm commitment to
peace. We are therefore thankful to the international community for their steadfast encouragement for the commencement of these discussions. It is also our considered view that in the event such provocations had continued unabated, the repercussions may have been extremely dangerous with further loss of lives and the ceasefire becoming totally meaningless and leading to its eventual collapse.

Let me at this stage assure all, that it is the desire
of H.E. President Rajapaksa to look at issues from a
fresh perspective to find a sustainable solution to
the conflict that engulfs our country. Let me also
re-iterate that our Government is committed to talk,
listen and think afresh.

III. Democracy and Human Rights

Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s most long-standing
democracies. The people have enjoyed uninterrupted
universal franchise since 1931, long before gaining independence in 1948. For over 65 years, our people have elected their own representatives to Parliament,
from all ethnic groups. Both within the confines of
Parliament and beyond, the right to criticize both the Government and the Opposition is an integral part of the freedom of expression. We must therefore ensure that all citizens of our country, wherever they may live, are free to exercise their franchise at free and fair elections, whether they be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher or any other group however small in numbers. The democratic process must prevail. Accordingly, no community or any section of a community should be deprived and denied their right to vote freely and to exercise their right to elect the representatives of their choice to whom they would entrust leadership.

It was a sad day for democracy in our country when at
the Presidential Elections of November 2005, the LTTE
forced the people in certain districts to observe a
boycott of elections through coercion and general
intimidation. It was a gross violation of democratic
rights. In addition, the widespread rigging and
corrupt election practices in many parts of the North
at the general elections in April 2004 which was
confirmed by the international election monitors could
also be cited as further evidence of the LTTE’s
disregard for democracy. It is in that context that
the Government of Sri Lanka sincerely hopes that with
a meaningful ceasefire, the people in the North could participate freely in the democratic process. We are confident that these sentiments will also be endorsed by the international community where such democratic norms prevail.

Mindful of the respective rights of the ethnic and
religious groupings as enshrined in the Constitution,
our Government is committed to maintaining the
multi-ethnic, multi-religious and pluralist character
of Sri Lanka. All persons irrespective of their race, religion, caste or gender are equal before our law.
All our people whichever part of Sri Lanka they live
in, are protected by these basic fundamental rights.
These rights must not be truncated in any part of Sri
Lanka, thereby depriving those persons of equality
before the law. It is unfortunate that the LTTE has
unlawfully deprived the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese
of these fundamental and human rights, recognized in
our law and in international law, in particular in
Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the North of
Sri Lanka.

As we all know, as a result of the ceasefire that has
been in effect since February 2002, the LTTE has been
able to engage itself in political activity. At that
time, it was the intention that other political
parties, too, should also be permitted to engage
themselves in political activity in the North and East
without hindrance. However, it is regrettable that
this aim could not be achieved due to the LTTE’s
hostile acts, including the assassination and
abduction of political activists, which has obstructed
the legitimate political activity of others. It is
our hope that we would be able to move towards the
restoration of the democratic values which are so
important in a civilized society.

IV. Ceasefire Violations

As set out in the preamble of the Agreement on a
Ceasefire between the then Prime Minister Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE, entered into on 22nd February 2002, four years to the day today, the importance of bringing the end to hostilities and improving the living conditions of all persons affected by the conflict was recognized. An end to hostilities was also seen as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards a lasting solution could be taken.

However, the available evidence suggests that the LTTE
had taken undue and unfair advantage of the ceasefire
to strengthen its military capability. Repeated calls
by the Government of Sri Lanka, the SLMM, and the
international community to the LTTE to desist from
such behavior has unfortunately not been heeded. This
has resulted in a large number of significant
violations which has seriously undermined the spirit
of the ceasefire and threatened its termination.

The number of ruled violations by the LTTE as
determined by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM)
since the beginning of the ceasefire up to the end of
last month is a massive 3519. In comparison, the SLMM
has determined that the GOSL has violated the
agreement on 163 occasions. This shows that 96% of
all violations have been committed by the LTTE. The
violent incidents committed by the LTTE include
assassinations, child recruitment and kidnappings,
abductions of adults, suicide missions, killings of
military and civilian persons, harassment of students
and political workers, and destruction of property.
Such incidents have seriously undermined the
sustainability of the ceasefire and disturbed the
return to normalcy for civilians in Sri Lanka,
particularly in the North and East.

At this moment, we also wish to pay tribute to one of
the great statesmen of our times, the late Hon.
Lakshman Kadirgamar, President's Counsel, the former
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka. Hon.
Lakshman Kadirgamar was internationally respected,
widely acclaimed and highly honored. As the Minister
of Foreign Affairs, he toiled hard pursuing a solution
to our conflict. The fact that such a person was
assassinated by the LTTE when the ceasefire was in
force demonstrates the disregard with which the
agreement had been treated and also highlights the
significant deficiencies of the current ceasefire.

These circumstances underscore the inherent weaknesses
in the existing ceasefire agreement as well as the
lacuna in setting out norms for its effective
implementation. These also show that the lack of
sanctions being attached to violations when there are
clear determinations made by the SLMM, is a very
serious shortcoming that needs to be addressed in the
interest of all concerned.

In expressing its views about the ceasefire, the
Government of Sri Lanka must take into account the
concerns of all of the people of Sri Lanka. The
Government takes this obligation seriously and has
engaged in consultations with representatives of all
ethnic communities in preparing for these talks. In
this context, we also wish to raise some of the
concerns of the Muslim community with regard to the
ceasefire.

As we all know, almost the entire Muslim community in
the North was forcibly expelled by the LTTE during the
time of the conflict. Families were ordered to leave
their homes with only the possessions they could carry
in their hands, on a few hours notice. Lives were
lost, homes abandoned, and businesses forced to shut
down. It was the hope of the Muslim people that the
ceasefire would create the conditions that would
enable them to feel secure to return to their homes
and re-establish their lives. Unfortunately, most of
these internally displaced people still linger in
refugee camps or have been resettled elsewhere.
Muslim people also face serious challenges to their
security in the East, where incidents of violence
threaten the civilian population at regular intervals.

It is the belief of the Government of Sri Lanka that
the dialogue about the ceasefire would take into
account the urgent concerns of the Muslim community.
Accordingly, these issues and interests must be
adequately addressed for the ceasefire to be
meaningful.

V. Children Affected by the Armed Conflict

The Government of Sri Lanka has always endeavored to
respect the rights of children. We have demonstrated
this commitment by becoming a party to the major
international human rights conventions, including the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This convention casts upon the Government, the
obligation to protect the rights of all Sri Lankan
children including children affected by armed
conflict.

Well before assuming office as President, H.E.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had earned himself an
outstanding reputation as a champion of human rights
and as an ardent advocate for safeguarding the rights
of children. It was therefore not surprising that as
soon as he was elected as President, he established a
new ministry for children to provide for the legal and
social conditions to protect all children and ensure
their welfare. Naturally therefore, we are seriously
concerned whenever the denial of these rights takes
place within the territory of Sri Lanka as it is
contrary to our law, international obligations and the
basic fundamentals of a civilised society.

In the context of the Government of Sri Lanka's
overall commitment toward children and the obligations
it has undertaken under international law, we find the violations of the rights of children committed by the LTTE as being totally unacceptable and deeply distressing.

The use of children by the LTTE in combat has been
extensively documented by the SLMM, UNICEF, and other
international agencies. According to UNICEF
documentation, 5368 children are known by UNICEF to
have been recruited by the LTTE, a figure that UNICEF acknowledges is under-representative of the actual number. Since the beginning of the ceasefire through 30 January 2006, the SLMM has ruled 2,011 violations against the LTTE for incidents of child recruitment and abduction; this number represents 55% of the total violations of the Ceasefire Agreement. UNICEF has also reported that child recruitment and kidnapping is continuing unabated as per their latest report of January 2006. Notwithstanding the concerns of almost the entire world community, it is sad that the LTTE has continued to demonstrate their disregard for the rights of children. The recent incident where three Government police officers associated with the National Child Protection Agency were abducted by the LTTE while the officers were in pursuit of a known pedophile is a clear illustration of this unfortunate situation.

The importance and urgency of addressing the issue of
child soldiers has been recognized by the United
Nations Security Council, which in its recently passed Resolution 1612 urged strong action to be taken against parties that recruit and abduct underage
children into their ranks. The LTTE has been
identified as such a violating party in a Report
submitted to the Security Council by the
Secretary-General of the United Nations. However,
despite repeated international condemnations of the
incidents of recruitment and abduction of children,
the violations continue to occur. It is the
Government of Sri Lanka's fervent hope that a dialogue
on this issue could contribute to creating a
meaningful ceasefire, one in which all children of Sri
Lanka are free to blossom and develop themselves into
healthy and productive members of society.

VI. Law and Order

One of the cornerstones of a democracy is an
environment of security. Without law and order and
its enforcement, individuals are not free to exercise
the full range of rights they are entitled to.
Freedom of speech and the right to engage in political activities are meaningless if the exercise of these
rights could lead to abduction or death. A state of
ceasefire does not override the existing law and order mechanisms in society. For this reason, the Government of Sri Lanka deplores the large number of killings of Sri Lankans of various ethnic groups after the ceasefire of February 2002. These killings have seriously undermined the ceasefire. The Government expresses its grave displeasure and disappointment that deficiencies in the ceasefire agreement have been exploited in this manner, leading to serious strains being placed on the enforcement machinery of our system of law and order.

The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is
committed to maintaining law and order without
discrimination in every part of our country. His new administration initiated a program that extensively cracked down on organized criminals, underworld gangs, armed groups and narcotics dealers. This program is continuing with great intensity today. Criminals, whichever part of the country they operate in, are subject to this crack-down as the scope of this program covers the entire country. On that basis, the Government has already taken all necessary action to bring the perpetrators of certain recent crimes to justice in accordance with the due process of law.
The murders of youth in Trincomalee, the reported
abductions of members of the Tamil Rehabilitation
Organization, TRO, the assassination of
Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham and all other
reported incidents are being diligently investigated
by our law enforcement authorities and we are taking
all necessary action to bring the perpetrators of
these crimes to justice.

It is also clear that certain parties with vested
interests are attempting to accuse and discredit the
Government of Sri Lanka for various alleged incidents.
A critical examination of some of the recent
allegations indicates that the media had been informed
of some incidents well before such incidents have even
been brought to the notice of the law enforcement
authorities. In some cases, evidence has not been
freely forthcoming and hardly any cooperation has been
extended by the complainants. Such behaviour casts
serious doubt on the reliability and authenticity of
the complaints themselves. These facts seem to suggest
that some of these allegations may have been cleverly
stage managed and hence we wish to inform the
international community that such incidents would have
to be more extensively investigated prior to opinions
being expressed about the veracity of the claims.

VII. Economic development

From the first day of his election to the office of
President, the Government of H.E. the President
Mahinda Rajapaksa has demonstrated its unwavering
commitment to achieve substantial and sustainable
economic development in all parts of the country. It
is our stated goal to bring prosperity to all citizens
of Sri Lanka. It is with that objective in mind
that the Government has invested heavily in provincial development. In particular, the Government recognizes that the Northern and the Eastern provinces should be accorded special attention so as to enable these areas to expeditiously recover from the devastation of the conflict and the tsunami.

It is in this context that the Mahinda Chintana has
enumerated a series of development projects to
expeditiously solve the problems of the people living
in the Northern and Eastern provinces. These
proposals have been given life through appropriations
in the budget that was presented by H.E. the
President. As a Government, we are committed towards implementing these projects so as to restore accelerated economic activity.

The Government is also fully aware that the people of
the North and the East have suffered tremendously in
the wake of the tsunami that struck our country in
December 2004. We have already implemented many
schemes to provide relief to the tsunami affected
people with the consultation and participation of the
affected communities.

In our view, certain violations of the ceasefire have
resulted in serious economic hardships being caused to
farmers, fishermen, and others involved in economic
pursuit in the Northern and Eastern provinces. For
example, in the Jaffna district, monetary surcharges
are imposed on farmers and they also undergo
tremendous difficulties in the transportation of their
produce. Such factors result in lowering the prices
that they could command for their produce.
Consequently, their earnings are reduced considerably.
The Government of Sri Lanka is concerned about the
plight of these farmers and others whose living
standards have declined as a result of the restrictive practices imposed by the LTTE. We believe these issues too, should be resolved so as to restore normalcy in the economic conditions in the North and the East.

The Government sincerely believes that taking steps
towards establishing a meaningful and effective
ceasefire would be one of the most important
initiatives to provide for the improvement of the
economic conditions of the people in the North and the
East.

It is our earnest hope that our discussions would pave
the way for the realization of such a ceasefire, which
would thereby lead to a peaceful environment that is
so important for economic development and investment.

VII. Concluding Remarks

Hon. Minister Erik Solheim and the Facilitation team,
Mr. Anton Balasingham and members of the LTTE
delegation, Our talks today marks a new beginning. Given the
pragmatism, courage and far-sightedness of H.E. the
President, we are confident that this beginning could
be nurtured towards the achievement of the goals we
have set ourselves.

We recognize, however, that the path ahead is likely
to be one of challenge and complexity. Nevertheless,
we sincerely believe that we should leave no stone
unturned to bring about a peaceful environment in our
country. We fervently hope that the LTTE would also
respond with sincerity to develop a framework that
would result in the cessation of hostilities and
embark on the path of non-violence.

We owe that duty and commitment to our people wherever
they may live.