British Foreign Office Minister completes visit to Sri Lanka

Visiting British Minister Kim Howells left Sri Lanka on 16 February at the end of a two day visit.

He visited the conflict and tsunami affected Ampara district on 14 February and met community leaders, representatives of the Special Task Force and NGOs. He also visited an IDP camp in the coastal town of Karaithivu and saw a British Government funded project, which brings children from all ethnic communities together through art.

On 15 February, he met His Excellency the President, the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights and representatives of opposition political parties.

On 16 February, the Minister said, “I was glad to make this trip to Sri Lanka. The country is beautiful, and everyone that I have met has been extremely friendly and welcoming. This is no surprise, for the UK has long been a friend of Sri Lanka with many shared interests and goals.

It is for this reason that I have felt able to be open in my conversations with the President, senior Ministers and others about the UK’s view of what is happening here. I have said that, as a friend, we want Sri Lanka to have the peace and prosperity it deserves.

I met children in a school in Ampara District on Wednesday. We want them, and all the others of their generation, not to have to suffer the same fears about violence and civil war that were suffered by their parents.

We want parents to be able to send their children to school without fear of them being abducted and forced to be labourers or soldiers.

We want the youth of Sri Lanka to be able to fulfil their potential and to become entrepreneurs here and in the global marketplace so that they can generate prosperity for Sri Lanka.

But as things stand, this is not happening.

The Tsunami was a terrible disaster that hit Sri Lanka badly. That is why the UK supports the international agencies and NGOs that are helping Sri Lanka to recover from the Tsunami. I saw for myself in the East of the country the real difference these organisations are making to the lives of ordinary people.

But Sri Lanka’s real problem is the conflict. Without a proper political process the conflict will not be brought to an end. Those who suffer most are the ordinary people who just want to be able to live their lives.

During my visit, I heard at first hand the stories of child abduction, disappearances, and other human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, which are all too familiar in the international press. The world needs to see that the Sri Lankan Government is taking robust action to safeguard the human rights of all people in Sri Lanka.

The British Government learnt from its experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland that security measures and military action alone do not resolve internal conflicts. For a peaceful resolution to be reached, both sides of the conflict need to realise this; and be willing to address the fundamental issues. It is our hope that this will happen in Sri Lanka.

The international community can help. I met senior foreign diplomats in Colombo who all want to play their part in helping Sri Lanka find peace. But the international community needs to be reassured that the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to a peaceful solution.

During my stay in Sri Lanka, I chanced upon a party in Colombo. A very good Sri Lankan band was playing; young people were dancing and enjoying themselves. I saw that people in Sri Lanka, like anywhere else, strive to live normal lives. They deserve to live in a society free from intimidation or violence; where they can earn a good living for themselves and their families and where they can live life to the full.

The British Government will do what it can to help Sri Lanka end this tragic conflict. But I hope too that all the parties in Sri Lanka will work tirelessly to enhance dialogue, stop the violence and human rights abuses, and put Sri Lanka on the path to peace and prosperity.”

[Press Release, British High Commission, Colombo, 16 February 2007]

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