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Had we ignored civilian factor, war would have
ended soon – Mahinda

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, and head of the Sri Lanka’s delegation to the 11th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which commenced in Geneva on Tuesday (02), said that the Government was grateful to the countries which supported Sri Lanka’s resolution at a Special Session of the Council held last week. "We were humbled by the expression of support for the Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and 17 other countries last Wednesday. Those member states who supported Sri Lanka’s position, delivered a resounding message on behalf of the international community in recognising the primacy of the principles embodied in Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter and in requesting the larger world community to assist Sri Lanka in its efforts to’ recover from decades of conflict. Those who co-sponsored and supported the Sri Lankan Resolution also demonstrated a resolve to assist countries such as Sri Lanka."

During the Minister’s address, he outlined several initiatives being taken by the Government to step up recovery efforts in the post-conflict phase. Minister Samarasinghe also pledged to work closely with the Human Rights Council in the future. He stated that he was grateful to the it members of the Council for their sustained interest in Sri Lanka." He added: I also wish to acknowledge the encouragement and support received from the regional and cross- regional groups for their cooperation and interest in Sri Lanka. I assure you that Sri Lanka will continue to engage with members of this Council in a spirit of constructive dialogue and cooperation."

Prior to addressing the Council’s plenary, Minister Samarasinghe met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanetham Pillay and briefed her on current developments relating to the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.

Associated with Minister Samarasinghe were Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights and Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN at Geneva.

He said: "As we look forward to a new beginning as one united people in one undivided land we face many challenges. Resettlement of the displaced is our primary obligation. These internally displaced persons have undergone great suffering being driven before the conflict and being held as hostages by a increasingly desperate group of terrorists. When I addressed this Council in March we were confident that we would obtain mastery over the terrorists. Indeed we could have done so much sooner. However, the reason that complete military dominance took a further two-and-a-half months was that our security forces were under strict instructions to avoid the loss of civilian life.

Our Government had taken a principled stand to eschew the use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardment in the last remaining sliver of land unlawfully held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Had we done so, Mr. President, the Sri Lankan nation would have been celebrating victory over terrorism months ago. Ultimately our forces won the day, albeit at the cost of heavy casualties among the ranks of ground troops due to being constrained to the use of only light weaponry. Time and again the LTTE used suicide bombers and gunfire to prevent the civilian hostages from seeking safety with Sri Lankan troops. Yet the civilians, who experienced the bitter reality of being held in captivity as human shields at first hand, kept trying to escape. A vast majority of them did and are now under the care of the Government. What needs to be acknowledged is that the government was successful, without a blood bath, in resolving the largest hostage situation the world has seen in recent times, thus liberating our people from the clutches of the LTTE. We will now work hard to give them the future they deserve."

"It is these people who now form the ranks of internally displaced persons who live in over 40 locations. We are acutely conscious that these are people who have gone through much and have the right to safety and security and the legitimate expectation of a return to normality. Moreover, we are aware that these are our people - Sri Lankan - citizens with all the hopes, dreams and aspirations towards a better tomorrow for themselves and their children it is this better future that the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to assuring."

"We are facing several challenges. Apart from the provision of .humanitarian relief services to the IDPs in temporary accommodation facilities, de-mining, restoration of civil administration, infrastructure development, provision of a means of economic survival through livelihood development and ultimately the restoration of popular political institutions that will enable democratic decision making by the people through freely chosen representatives are some of the main tasks to be achieved. Allied with this are the rehabilitation of child combatants and the demobilisation, disarming and reintegration of other ex-combatants throughout the country which are also high on the list of priorities along with psycho-social care and counselling. To sustain these initiatives we need to be on our guard against any attempts to revive and revitalise separatism, disunity and destabilization. The Government of Sri Lanka will continue with its efforts to weed out terrorists who have infiltrated the ranks of IDPs and the civilian population."

"At a juncture when we were justifiably proud of our achievements in militarily overcoming terrorism, one week after hostilities ended, we were disappointed that a Special Session of this Council was convened to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Especially with the 11th Regular Session at hand, the Special Session was unnecessary. We were humbled by the expression of support for the Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and 17 other countries last Wednesday. Those member states who supported Sri Lanka’s position, delivered a resounding message on behalf of the international community in recognising the primacy of the principles embodied in Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations, Charter and in requesting the larger world community to assist Sri Lanka in its efforts to recover from decades of conflict. Those who co- sponsored and supported the Sri Lankan Resolution also demonstrated a resolve to assist countries such as Sri Lanka."

"Our efforts, if they are to be successful, must be complemented by the efforts of the friends of Sri Lanka, especially the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. We have put in place an overarching framework to guide the process of reconstruction, resettlement and socio-economic renewal under the "Northern Spring" programme put in place by President Rajapaksa. I call upon the many friends and partners of Sri Lanka who have displayed a keen interest in our country and her people to come forward and work with, us to achieve our common aims."

"We have already made gains in caring for those affected by the conflict. We are working towards incremental realisation and maintenance of international standards in the provision of humanitarian assistance. Our ongoing engagement with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several senior officials and representatives of the UN system has, apart from demonstrating our openness and willingness to work with our international partners, highlighted key areas of concern which we are confident of addressing together."

UN official upset over Geneva vote

A senior United Nations official criticized the Human Rights Council Tuesday, saying the decision not to send a team to investigate war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka was worrying. "What happened at the Human Rights Council last week is more than troubling," said Marie Heuze, the spokeswoman for the UN in Geneva.

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