Last afternoon, the Minister of External Affairs, Professor G. L. Peiris was a guest speaker at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington DC, a stone’s throw from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Center, named after the 28th President of the United States was a great venue for the Minister’s lecture on the topic: “ Sri Lanka: Challenges and Opportunities” because the Center is a non-political, non-partisan entity which gives a platform for scholars to analyze and dissect political situations in an academic environment.
Mr. Robert Hathaway, presided over the event and introduced Professor Peiris as someone similar to President Wilson. He drew parallels between President Woodrow Wilson and the Minister by pointing out they were both scholars and statesmen. Like the President, Professor Peiris had abandoned his academic life to take up politics.
During his address, the Minister focused first on a short outline of the conflict, and then moved on to the Government’s vision for the future: the process of reconciliation and a transformation from terrorism to tranquility. He outlined the challenges that had to be overcome during the past three years, and noted the social and economic progress taking place today. He emphasized the importance of identifying those challenges, prioritizing them and using effective modalities for solving those problems.
Professor Peiris commented on elements of major undertaking of the government during the past three years:
* Resettlement of displaced persons: 98% has been completed
* Ex combatants – 11,000 have been reintegrated into society ( 90% )
* Ex child combatants – 500 all of whom have been released to their relatives or guardians
* De-mining – 94% has been completed
He further stated that economic development is a viable part of reconciliation. The economic growth of the North is 22% as compared to 8% in the rest of the country.
“The economic revival of the North is a priority of the Government” he said and fisheries, agriculture and industries have been important components of this revival.
Professor Peiris, being an academic, spoke on the difficulties in the field of education and proposed bilingual or trilingual education for children in Sri Lanka. He said that lack of communication is a great hindrance to understanding and reconciliation between communities in Sri Lanka.
Professor Peiris stressed the Government’s spirit of inclusivity and common resolve to move the country forward. He stressed that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to implementing the LLRC recommendations in an organized, deliberate way unhindered by foreign intervention. In answer to a question at the end of his address, Professor Peiris remarked that the US and Sri Lanka had more points of agreement than disagreements and both countries have a common goal of peace for all citizens in Sri Lanka.