Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s Speech at the Opening Session of Peace Support Meeting, Oslo, 25th November 2002
Honourable Foreign Minister of the Royal Norwegian Government
Ladies and Gentlemen
This is indeed a historic occasion.
For the people of Sri Lanka who have been yearning over so many years, for an end to conflict and for a genuine and durable peace in our land this is a moment of particular significance.
All of us assembled here in Oslo at the invitation of your government share the goal of supporting and consolidating peace, justice and development in Sri Lanka. Each of us, in different ways, have worked steadfastly towards that goal. Our success here will consolidate the peace process and propel it forward. In a world where some of the promising movements towards peace appear to be faltering, our process, of which all of you are such vital stakeholders, remains a rare beacon of hope. We should not; we cannot, allow it to fail.
To your country Mr Minister and for what all your officials of the Royal Norwegian Government have done to make our journey to peace effective and fruitful, we offer a special word of thanks. Norway’s role as facilitator in the peace process has won the highest praise both local and international. Norway’s active involvement in our peace process took place before this Government took office in December of last year.
The process was commenced some five years ago when our President, Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed Norway to facilitate discussions between the Government and the LTTE to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict. As could be expected, with the conflict raging, the process was limited. However it has to be recorded that a considerable amount of ground work was initiated between the then Government, the Parliamentary Opposition of the time and the LTTE.
At the General Elections in December last year a new Government took office bearing the people’s overwhelming mandate for peace. This was reaffirmed in the local government elections held earlier this year. This led progressively to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and the LTTE, the ceasefire and the positive steps since then towards the restoration of normalcy.
In all of these landmark events Norway was crucially involved as facilitator.
I also wish to take this opportunity to thank the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission ( SLMM ) composed of representatives of all the Nordic countries for the impartial manner in which they are conducting their difficult assignment. Its contribution in keeping the peace process move forward smoothly has been most valuable.
All this dedicated and sustained work on our behalf has impacted positively on the recovery of our society and economy.
Firstly there is the palpable sense of people enjoying the benefits of a re-discovered freedom.
Similarly the economy is showing positive signs of recovering its vibrancy. The stock market continues its rapid rise since the ceasefire; tourist arrivals have increased; and business –both local and foreign- is showing strong interest in the many sided opportunities Sri Lanka offers for profitable investment and trade.
These are all encouraging signs. But, with them comes a risk. The imperative for peace is growing. The people are demanding permanent peace and the politicians and negotiators on both sides have to deliver.
Our Peace is people driven.
That our long night is ending and that the dawn is surely breaking, is manifest in the success that has attended our Talks in Thailand, both in Sattahip in September and in Nakorn Pathom two weeks ago. The agreement between the Government and the LTTE to move the peace process forward was self-evident. The firm desire on both sides to strengthen and consolidate peace and development was stated clearly. These discussions have been conducted with the candour, specificity and openness which presage continuing confidence and faith in the process. Participants from both sides at those meetings will no doubt confirm this fully at this Conference.
In these early stages of our negotiations we are addressing some of the immediate practical needs of the people that can bring relief and normalcy to our society. The pressing day to day problems of the people need to be resolved as early as possible. Economic re-construction and development, particularly of the areas devastated by war will be a deciding factor in sustaining the momentum of political negotiations. Development is part of the healing process in a wounded, divided society. Development is underpinning peace in Sri Lanka. Peace will sustain development. The two processes of peace and development have become inextricably inter-twined and inter-related.
They form the core of our vision of ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ which provides the foundation for the restoration of growth and development of the economy.
Indeed at the two meetings in Thailand, there was strong endorsement of the urgent need for economic growth to ensure early dividends for the people of the peace process.
However two decades of war have left behind with us some formidable challenges. These have been referred to in some detail in the White Paper prepared by the Government as part of the documentation for this Conference in Oslo. This complements the direct appeal which will be placed before you by the Sub-Committee formed between the Government and the LTTE for immediate humanitarian support for the North and East.
The challenge for the Government extends indeed to meet the needs of not only the ravages of war in the North-East, but also to the damage it caused to our entire economy. In all parts of the country and to every section of the Sri Lankan community, the war has brought distress and dislocation. In short, the country’s economy has been shattered. Sri Lanka’s appeal for support to the international community at this critical time of rebuilding has, therefore, to be considered in this light.
The conflict has dragged our economy to near bankruptcy. Last year, for the first time in independent Sri Lanka, we recorded negative growth. We are now reversing the process. The momentum of growth is being re-established. Our people want to see complete normalcy restored today. They are not prepared to wait.
Herein lies the role for the international community. Without continuing international support and help with resources to build the peace dividend, the momentum for peace could be retarded. With the re-creation of opportunities for growth politicians and negotiators alike will be driven to stabilize and advance the peace.
Meanwhile, there is an immediate security dimension we have to deal with. An estimated two million mines need to be removed from the land to make it safe for resettlement and farming. We are reviewing our position on the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines.
We are grateful for the support we are receiving from the United Nations, and members of the International Community in our mine action programme.
My Government is determined to ensure that people in all parts of the country enjoy the same security, the same quality of life, the democratic forms of government and rule of law and the human rights, which as citizens, is their birthright. The political aspirations and rights of all communities – Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, who live in our multi ethnic society have to be safeguarded. The right to equality for each and every member of our nation must be maintained in a democratic, pluralistic polity.
Peace will enhance all this; but its dividend must go to all Sri Lanka’s people.
Our nation has resolved, with the conviction that served us well at critical moments in our eventful history, that a paradigm shift is necessary. The wellsprings of a cultural tradition that derives from respect for diversity and pluralism will fortify us as we prepare to make crucial decisions, for today and the future at this critical moment of history.
We are together turning our backs on war as a means of realizing the dream of nationhood.
Our collective experience of pain and deprivation, of armed conflict of eighteen long years, has banished forever the appeal of arms.
Human aspirations are anchored in legitimate expectation. During the past 10 months our people, whatever their ethnicity have savoured deeply the fruits of peace.
The fear which stalked a generation of Sri Lankans has become a thing of the past. Our people have rediscovered for themselves regions of their country, which had been inaccessible to them in recent times.
There is no way that the people on the threshold of such possibilities, would give it all up to return of their own volition to the pain and trauma of war.
Therein, deep in the hearts of all our people, lies the durability of the peace process on which we are now firmly launched.
And we will not let our people down. That is our pledge.
However with your sustained help now we can make a permanent peace in Sri Lanka happen sooner than later. Support now is of the essence. Let us leave no room for future generations to say that we have missed an unique window of opportunity and be faulted for having done "too little, too late".
This is the opportunity for the international community that our meeting at Oslo provides.
I thank you all.