Sri Lanka’s post-conflict measures at reconciliation, rehabilitation, reintegration, and reconstruction were highlighted by High Commissioner Dr Chris Nonis during an interview on BBC World News today.
Asked by BBC presenter Mishal Husain what positive developments have occurred in the last four years since the end of the 26 year conflict, Dr Nonis said 297,000 people rescued from the clutches of the LTTE have been rehabilitated, in perhaps the largest hostage rescue operation in global history.
“After a 28 year bitter and internecine conflict with the terrorists we finally achieved peace in the country under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There is a billion dollar programme going into the North and East, Negenahira Navodaya, and Uthura Vasanthaya which is building the lives and infrastructure of the people. Eleven thousand six hundred LTTE cadres are now being rehabilitated”, Dr Nonis told the BBC World News programme “Impact”.
“I have met these kids. They were cruelly snatched by Prabhakaran from their parents, and they were fighting but they didn’t know what they were fighting for. It is so wonderful to see them receiving vocational training, being rehabilitated and re-integrated into society,” the High Commissioner said.
On the question of an international independent process to assess progress as called for by the UN, the High Commissioner said that one needs to draw a distinction between an international process and an independent process.
He said “We respect the Sovereign rights of Britain, and of every other country, and we expect you to respect ours. We are a sovereign and an independent state and naturally we expect the same courtesy that you would expect us to apply for your country.”
“We do have an independent inquiry and many people who initially criticised the LLRC process changed their views when they actually saw the 388-paged document. It was modelled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. It was set within the Principle of International Humanitarian Law, incorporating the Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Proportionality. “The Commission is moving forward and there is significant progress”.
Questioned on refugees and persecution, Dr Nonis said “I would say there are many people who for various different reasons come and seek asylum, and I think what we have to separate, is those who seek asylum as economic refugees, from those who seek asylum as political refugees” – You must remember the demography of the country, the majority of Tamil people actually live in the Centre and South of Sri Lanka, if you look at Colombo, its roughly a 30-30-30 percent split between Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim. We have a huge dichotomy or disjuncture in perception between what is portrayed here and the reality of contemporary Sri Lanka”.
Asked by Mishal Husain “ How many years would it take to say that we are now reconciled”, Dr Nonis pointed to South Africa and the post-apartheid period where there are still substantial issues and to Northern Ireland where, despite the “Good Friday” Agreement, there are still issues. “In comparison, I think we have done pretty well,” he said reiterating that it is only four years since the military defeat of the LTTE.