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* UK recognizes and welcomes progress made in Sri Lanka - Foreign Office Minister
Sun, Jan 13, 2013, 12:37 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Jan 13, Colombo: The United Kingdom recognizes and welcomes progress made in Sri Lanka as the absence of conflict has brought greater security and opened up economic development, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt has said recently.

Speaking at the UK parliamentary debate on "Sri Lanka and the UN responsibility to protect" last week Burt said, UK officials have visited all nine provinces of Sri Lanka in the past 12 months and have seen much to welcome.

The Foreign Minister told the British MPs at the debate the absence of conflict has brought greater security and opened up economic development. Among the many he mentioned, were the progress in demining with UK financial support, rehabilitation of thousands of ex-combatants, including child soldiers, resettlement of the displaced people, and reduction in troop numbers.

However, he said there is more to be done to ensure that there is lasting peace and prosperity.

During the debate, Democratic Unionist Party parliamentarian from North Antrim, Ian Paisley, said he has visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, both as a private individual and on a cross-party parliamentary trip and his experience was very different from what he has heard from "propagandists not in Sri Lanka."

"The people on the ground gave a very different message from the out-of-touch one that I have heard from the self-appointed diaspora, both in Canada and here in the United Kingdom," the MP said.

He said in many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.

"That is what I have seen on the ground, and we should recognise it and stop the suffocation of a country by its past and help Sri Lanka to move forward to a better future," the parliamentarian stressed.

Addressing the progress of the implementation of recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the Foreign Minister said he will be visiting Sri Lanka in a "couple of weeks" to see if Sri Lanka will consider implementing all the LLRC recommendations and how they will be implemented.

Responding to the suggestions by some parliamentarians that UK should boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Sri Lanka in November, Burt said it is too soon to talk about UK's attendance plans for the meeting.

He noted that Sri Lanka was scheduled to host CHOGM in 2011, but given ongoing concerns about the humanitarian and human rights situation, the UK and other Commonwealth members did not support its bid.

However, Commonwealth members decided that Sri Lanka would host in 2013, he said adding that to reopen that decision would require a consensus of all member states and he does not think that is likely.

He pointed out to the MPs calling for a boycott that a decision on the location of CHOGM is decided by the Commonwealth and not UK.

"The meeting will discuss many issues, not just Sri Lanka, but as Sri Lanka well knows it will inevitably shine a spotlight on the host country, demonstrating either its progress or lack of it. It is up to Sri Lanka to choose what will be seen," Burt noted.

"We expect the Sri Lankan Government to demonstrate that they uphold the values of the Commonwealth," he emphasized.

Dismissing the suggestion by some MPs in the debate that UK should not let the Queen attend the Commonwealth meeting, the British minister clarified that the Queen, will attend the meeting as the head of the Commonwealth, not as the UK head of state.

"Her attendance is not a decision for the UK Government. If she were to ask for advice, it would be from all Commonwealth members," he said.

Recognizing that process of reconciliation following the resolution of the conflict is not easy, the British Minister said, unless long-term reconciliation is achieved the problem will come back at some stage to haunt everyone in Sri Lanka.

Although some progress has been made in implementing some of the recommendations in the LLRC report, more needs to be done, Burt said and told the debate Sri Lanka needs to be given time and good will must be there on all sides to see the process through.

"We are mindful of what has happened in the past and of the wishes of all Sri Lankans for the future," the Foreign Minister said.

Read full debate here.

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