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Sri Lanka 'Needs Space' to Heal War Wounds

Dr. Gamini Lakshman Peiris fields a question about the centralization of power in Sri Lanka on Sept. 27, 2010. (5 min., 42 sec.)(Photo: Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

Dr. Gamini Lakshman Peiris fields a question about the centralization of power in Sri Lanka on Sept. 27, 2010. (5 min., 42 sec.)
(Photo: Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, September 27, 2010 - One year after the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the Minister of External Affairs said a multifaceted approach to reconstruction is necessary to ensure a lasting peace.

Speaking with Executive Vice President Jamie Metzl at Asia Society's New York headquarters, Gamini Lakshman Peiris spoke of a need for openness as the country heals from decades of division. He was in New York to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. 

“We have nothing to hide,” said the foreign minister, who invited humanitarian organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to monitor the country's progress in rehabilitating Tamil fighters and the civilian minority populations.

Not all oversight has been welcomed, however. In June, Peiris said his office would deny visas to the three-person advisory panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The panel had been proposed to help advise the Sri Lankan Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in investigating allegations of war crimes leveled against both sides of the civil war.

When Metzl asked why the foreign minister objected so strongly to the panel, Peiris replied that the panel was unnecessary. “We appointed a commission... [and] see no reason for a foreign body to be appointed at that time.”

Peiris also denied allegations of war crimes, which have been leveled by some humanitarian organizations, including the International Crisis Group. He argued that the use of anonymous sources detracted from the credibility of these charges.

“The vast majority of people who have come to testify [before the Sri Lankan LLRC]…have chosen to testify in public,” said Peiris, who questioned the motives of those who would not speak openly. “It is all as vague and as nebulous as you can imagine,” he said.

Peiris strongly objected to any criticism raised about the reconciliation process, saying that the work was only in its initial stages. He said the process would take time and that the results would be evident.

He added that through the democratic process, the Sri Lankan people would ultimately rule on the success of the commission.

He said, overall, the public supported the government but that the prevailing opinion was “if you don’t deliver, then we will throw you out. Use these powers to deliver, we expect you will, now get on with the job. That is the feeling in Sri Lanka.”

Reported by Mollie Kirk

Related Materials
Asia Society Resources on Sri Lanka
UN Coverage 2009: Sri Lanka's Challenges
The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War