Sept 03, Colombo: Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said today that speedy national reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not easy since for a very long period of time, most of the people in the North and parts of the East of the country lived under the total dominance of the Tamil Tiger terrorist group LTTE.
"Despite the success of the Welfare camps, despite the speed of resettlement, and despite the far-reaching nature of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme, it is not easy to ensure speedy reconciliation," the Defence Secretary said.
Delivering the Keynote Address Today (03) as Guest of Honour at the third annual Defence Seminar 2013 organized by the Sri Lanka Army, Rajapaksa said at the same time, it has to be acknowledged that much remains to be done by all parties, including the Government, to ensure that national reconciliation is achieved.
Over 300 participants, comprising 66 foreign delegates, ambassadors and defence attachés participated in the Defence Seminar - 2013 themed 'Post Conflict Sri Lanka; Challenges and Regional Stability' Tuesday (3) at Colombo Galadari Hotel.
The top defence official of the government pointed out that the most essential task of the government in this regard is to ensure that all Sri Lankans have the same opportunities and unobstructed access to state services, and that they are empowered to seek better futures for themselves in a peaceful, stable and rapidly developing democracy.
He said that one of the most crucial steps towards the restoration of normalcy in the North and East was the revival of the democratic process through the restoration of elections and the return of political plurality.
Pointing out that the government is holding provincial council elections in the Northern Province later this month, the Defence Secretary said that the opposition parties including the main opposition UNP, Tamil party TNA and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, as well as ruling party SLFP are all freely contesting in this election shows that political plurality is firmly established in this region.
Speaking of post-war challenges the country is facing after the democracy have been accomplished, the defence official said Sri Lanka must swiftly move forward.
"We must evolve from being locked in a post-conflict mentality, and look to the future instead of forever grappling with the issues of the past. We must be willing to move forward as a nation, united by what we have in common instead of being divided by the differences we have between us," Rajapaksa said.
He asked the main political parties in Sri Lanka to stop the politicization of divisive issues for their petty political gain since the main issues the nation is faced with cannot be solved overnight and will require time.
"In reality, these problems are fundamentally economic, and affect Sri Lankans in every part of the country irrespective of their race or religion. They are national issues that need to be faced together as a nation, rather than treated as divisive ethnic or religious issues confined to a region or a section of the community," he said.
Rajapaksa stressed that the biggest challenge the country has is economic development, especially, unequal development between the cities and the rural areas.
He warned that if the problem of rural underdevelopment is not holistically addressed, it is conceivable that similar problems to what the country experienced in the past will once again arise.
The Defence Secretary, outlining the measures needed to meet the challenges of achieving national unity and meaningful economic development, said preventing the re-emergence of terrorism is essential.
Other measures include establishing effective methods to project Sri Lanka to the international community, suppressing the emergence of other extremist groups, preventing further ethnic divisions and communal violence, ensuring maritime security and border control, curtailing the growth of organized crime and addressing the new challenges in safeguarding a just and wholesome democracy.
Beyond the local challenges, there are significant international challenges Sri Lanka faces due to its strategic geographic position within the South Asian region, Rajapaksa noted.
As a result there are some "inter-linking of domestic issues" between Sri Lanka and India, he observed.
India is very sensitive to events in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern state of Tamil Nadu and therefore particularly during elections, Sri Lanka figures large in Indian power politics, he explained.
Also, Sri Lanka's cordial relationship with China has sometimes become an issue for other countries because of misperceptions about the nature of China's influence, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said adding that the power politics between key countries in the region, such as India and China, or India and Pakistan, are also important issues for Sri Lanka because of its relationships with these nations.
"Sri Lanka's journey during the four years since the dawn of peace has seen the country transform itself from a nation at war to one of the most peaceful, stable and secure democracies in the world. How well the country navigates its present issues, including national security challenges and broader geo-political issues arising from its geographical position, will determine its destiny," the Defence Secretary said concluding his speech.