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An Open letter to President Barack Obama

I write to you today as a US citizen of Sri Lankan descent, a teacher trainer, child advocate, and an advocate for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. I spent several weeks in Sri Lanka in January and February of this year just as I have done each year since the Asian Tsunami.

Ever since the war ended, I have participated in efforts towards reconciliation through my role as an educational consultant, teacher trainer and peacemaker. Since 2009, when the 33 year conflict ended, I focused my attention on reconciliation efforts through several private organizations and friends in Sri Lanka.

First,  I visited a rehabilitation  center for former child combatants and participated in some educational and recreational activities with them. My first visit was in December 2009 not long after  the war had ended. I visited these children ages  12 to 16 with a group of teachers who worked with them every week day afternoon. At that time,  I observed their sad and untrusting demeanor and witnessed their physical and mental trauma. It was heartbreaking to listen to their stories of abduction, molestation and oppression by the LTTE.

From the first time I visited these children, I was struck by the kindness and nurturing shown to these children by the staff of the Center. Military staff who worked with  them in the camp did not wear uniforms. Men and women who cared for them took great care to make the children comfortable both physically and mentally. It was a long road to recovery; but when I went back an year later, I was stunned by the success of this rehabilitation program. In my research on the plight of child soldiers in international  conflicts, I had never come across such an amazing  and effective undertaking.

I wanted to focus on this venture to put a very important and positive light on the handling of a very significant burden of any war. Children are the worst affected in any conflict. But the problem of recruiting children as soldiers is a brutal and dastardly act. Although the United States has not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, I am sure you will agree this act of barbarism is totally unacceptable in civilized societies.

I am bringing this to your attention at this time because last month, the United States humiliated Sri Lanka by sponsoring a resolution on human rights violations and not once did it mention so many  positive measures that have been undertaken  on the ground. Not once did this resolution mention this important child protection  exercise. As an eye witness to some of these measures on my visits to the North in the past two years, I am disappointed at the way we in the US have acted towards a nation that has finally put a stop to the daily violence by the LTTE. They may have billions to lobby congress but they have the blood of innocent children on their hands.

In February this year, I was involved with other children’s projects  designed to promote reconciliation efforts. We had joint educational and  social projects between the children of both the North and the South which resulted in many heartwarming exchanges between these children. Many groups in Sri Lanka have activated wonderful opportunities for reconciliation. These efforts by both the government and private organizations need to be recognized and encouraged. The US needs to listen to those people who want a united Sri Lanka. It is time to recognize Tigers in Sheep’s clothing; the Pro-LTTE Diaspora are not the experts on Sri Lanka. There is a large silent majority including Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka who do not agree with their ideas and tactics.

If the goal of some Western powers is to divide the country along ethnic lines, this will certainly happen. What the UNHCR resolution has achieved indirectly is the creation of distrust in the Sri Lankan community. The Pro-LTTE Diaspora has been emboldened by the results of  this biased  decision and they are doing their utmost to destroy a sovereign state and its gentle people. Most of the pro-LTTE Diaspora have not stepped foot on Sri Lankan soil after the end of the conflict. We, who have regularly visited and worked with the people of the North have a very different view of things on the ground . Using  doctored material, these divisive individuals have spread false information to members of the international community who in turn  have fallen for it Hook , Line and Sinker.

Sri Lanka has made tremendous strides since the successful end of its war against terrorism in May 2009. Since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka has:

  • Resettled 300,000 people who were displaced by the conflict;
  • Invested $1 billion annually on new infrastructure to help support livelihoods and the economy, especially in conflict-affected areas;
  • Rehabilitated over 1,000 former LTTE child soldiers and re-united them with their families;
  • Given amnesty and job and educational training to 12,000 former LTTE terrorists who have returned to civil society;
  • Held Presidential, Parliamentary and Regional elections in formally terrorist controlled areas;
  • Lifted conflict-era emergency regulations that were in place for 26 years;
  • Agreed to adopt the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

     I hope you will consider the view of those of us who have no vote in Sri Lanka, no affiliation to any political party in Sri Lanka, and no hidden agenda. As a teacher, peace advocate and one who seeks peace for ALL children of Sri Lanka, I respectfully ask you to consider these facts I have noted.

Sincerely,

C. Fernando

Educational Consultant

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AMBASSADOR REFUTES CLAIMS BY INDIA GLOBE REPORTER

WASHINGTON – Sri Lankan Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya has notified India Globe reporter Raghubir Goyal that statements he recently made during a U.S. Department of State news briefing are drastically incorrect.

In a letter to Mr. Goyal, Ambassador Wickramasuriya corrected accusations made by Goyal, and suggested that they meet to discuss the current situation in Sri Lanka.

The ambassador’s letter to Mr. Goyal follows:

Raghubir Goyal

India Globe

Aug. 19, 2011

Dear Mr. Goyal,

As you may recall, we have met and discussed the situation in Sri Lanka numerous times since my 2008 appointment as ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States. You have always urged me to keep you informed on events regarding Sri Lanka.

It is in that regard that I write to you today. I have noticed that you recently asked a series of misinformed questions regarding Sri Lanka at the noontime briefings at the U.S. Department of State. I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are factual errors in your questions that I would like to correct.

First, in one recent question during a briefing, you said that the  “Sri Lankan president and Government has repeatedly said that they will not investigate their president or whatever, if the crimes were committed or not. Now the Tamils are in your hands.”

Mr. Goyal, Sri Lankan Government forces were fighting against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, and not the Tamil people. The LTTE, as you may know, was regarded by the FBI as one of the world’s most violent terrorist organizations and banned in the U.S. and many other nations. As you also know, the LTTE assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, as well as a Sri Lankan president and a Sri Lankan foreign minister who was also Tamil, as well as thousands of civilians — Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and many others.

In fact, the premise of your question is inaccurate. The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, which was established by President Mahinda Rajapaksa following the conflict, has the full authority to investigate any wrong doing that may have occurred during that conflict. In fact, it is doing so right now. All of the testimony and statements taken by the LLRC are public, and can be found on the commission’s website (www.LLRC.lk). I encourage you to examine those statements; they are by no means pro-government. The commission is due to issue its report in November.

In another question at the State Department briefing, you have stated that atrocities were committed against “millions” of Tamil Sri Lankans by the government of President Rajapaksa. I assure you this is a horrendous falsehood.

What President Rajapaksa and Sri Lankan government forces actually did was to rescue over 300,000 Tamil civilians who were being held hostage and human shields by the LTTE. By ending the conflict against the LTTE, President Rajapaksa has actually restored human rights to more than 20 million Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, and brought lasting peace to the country.

I refer you to a recent report on Sri Lankan’s operations at the close of the conflict. It describes in careful detail what happened:

http://www.defence.lk/news/20110801_Conf.pdf

There are other important developments that I feel you should know:

·       Sri Lankan forces not only rescued 300,000 Tamil civilians who were held hostage by the LTTE, but also housed them in government welfare centers until their communities and lands in the North and East could be cleared of LTTE landmines. They were returned home within a year’s time. As you probably know, more than 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s Tamils live together with others in communities in other parts of Sri Lanka. Our capital city, Colombo, is majority Tamil.

·       Sri Lanka has launched aggressive and broad reconciliation and reconstruction programs. These include investing heavily in the Northern and Eastern Provinces – about $1 billion annually — to repair damage done by the conflict and to upgrade infrastructure that was neglected by the LTTE. These projects include new schools, hospitals, waters systems, roads and bridges. New industries are being encouraged to locate plants and equipment in the North and East to provide livelihoods. The fishing and agriculture sectors are already showing rapid recovery, in spite of continuing efforts to remove LTTE landmines. Recent local elections saw the selection of a number of Tamil candidates.

·       Sri Lanka has granted amnesty to 11,600 former LTTE militants who surrendered at the conclusion of the conflict. All of these people have received vocational training and educational tutoring. More than70 percent have been released to civil society and into new livelihoods and studies, while the rest are currently being released as their job training and tutoring concludes.

·       Sri Lanka has also rehabilitated over 1,000 child soldiers who were kidnapped and forced to take up arms by the LTTE. These children have been given counseling and re-united with their families.

Mr. Goyal, I would welcome a chance to discuss with you these and other questions concerning Sri Lanka. If in the future if you have such questions, please don’t hesitate to call me to get the Sri Lankan perspective. In the meantime, we will add your name to the list of journalists who receive our embassy’s regular Country Information Updates, which reports on the current situation and economic developments in Sri Lanka.

May I also suggest that we meet to discuss these issues at your earliest convenience? Finally, allow me to encourage you to go to Sri Lanka and see for yourself how people feel about the end of the conflict and efforts to redevelop the North and East and rebuild the lives of those affected by 26-years of strife. You will see that there has been much notable progress on many fronts.

Sincerely,

Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States and Mexico

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Answering the Lies : paths2people

Answering the Lies : paths2people.

The following link provides a rebuttal to the recent Channel 4 TV special, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”  from a Sri Lankan Tamil living in London.

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