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A Year After Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Embodies Hope and Change

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Today is my first visit to Washington since my appointment as Sri Lanka's Minister for External Affairs. My visit marks a point of progress for Sri Lanka, following a difficult period in our history, one year on from the end of the Sri Lankan conflict.

After 26 years of conflict and daily acts of terror, we have witnessed our first year of peace. No-one who lived in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years would underestimate the magnitude of the change the country has undergone this past year nor the significance of our first anniversary of peace.

For almost three decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist group banned in over thirty democracies worldwide, including here in the US, had held the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka under their repressive control. Today, Sri Lankans can celebrate that the country will never have to face such internal conflict again. 'Change' and 'hope' are popular words in the modern political lexicon, but I cannot think of two words that better exemplify what is now occurring in our country.

We just had the first peacetime Presidential and Parliamentary elections where all Sri Lankans were able to exercise their vote freely, previously denied to many Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese civilians in the North and East by the LTTE.

A year ago, Sri Lankans were unable to travel to the North and lived under the intimidation by the LTTE. One year on, the key A-9 artery road linking the North and the South of the country is once again throbbing with life and activity, reflecting the resumption of commercial and human contact with the North.

Internally displaced people have been returned to their homes as the land has been cleared of mines and infrastructure restored. A rich rice harvest will be produced from agricultural lands that had been indiscriminately mined by the LTTE. Companies from a diverse range of sectors from food processing, plastics and glass recycling, garments to ready-mix concrete are looking to establish a presence in the in the former conflict zones. The banking sector is flourishing, with several international names now operating in Jaffna, the capital of the North.

In the Eastern Province, the economy has been revitalised, with the investment of USD1.7bn. In this area, infrastructure has been restored, Tamils now form a bulk of the police force, all citizens participate in regional politics, employment is growing and tourism is thriving. In the North, we have initiated an accelerated programme of development, investing USD2.6bn over two years.

We are establishing a Commission to look at the lessons learnt from the conflict. The Commission will provide recommendations on actions that can be taken to boost reconstruction, rehabilitation and support reconciliation within Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa has expressed his determination that no-one will be left behind in the new Sri Lanka, and the Commission will help achieve this important objective. We have a responsibility to ensure no future generation has to experience the anguish that we underwent during the last three decades.

In our external affairs we are committed to an open multilateral framework based on the principle of mutual respect. To that end, Secretary Clinton's message of congratulations and invitation to Washington when I assumed my role last month was warmly received. We look forward to many years of constructive engagement and dialogue with the United States as well as other Western nations.

But constructive engagement does not stop at a Government-to-Government level. I have instructed my embassies to engage with Tamil communities abroad, to boost dialogue within these communities and, we hope, improve understanding. We may not be able to bring all the former voices of the LTTE among Tamil expatriates to the table, but I hope we can bring the Tamil population with us, as an integral part of a united Sri Lankan people.

One year ago, Sri Lankans saw an end to terror, an end our people scarcely thought possible. A year on, our people are embracing the opportunities it brings. We are making steady progress. I believe the painful shared memories of the past era of terror will drive our country on to many more years of peace and prosperity. We welcome international support and assistance as we work towards this enduring goal.