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Keynote Address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Honorary Consuls of Sri Lanka abroad

Keynote Address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Honorary Consuls of Sri Lanka abroad - Presidential Secretariat, Colombo - January 19, 2009

Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama,
Senior Officials of Government,
Honorary Consuls representing Sri Lanka overseas,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very happy 2009. I consider this meeting with the Honorary Consuls for Sri Lanka who, at our request have arrived in Colombo from near and far as most timely and important.

After being elected as President in November 2005, this is my first opportunity of meeting and interacting with you together. Therefore, I consider this a useful opportunity for me to share with you some of my thoughts in implementing the vision for my country spelt out at the commencement of my presidency.

This meeting that will last for two days with a programme of briefings and various useful activities will no doubt be an occasion for you to review, re-assess and strengthen your work and activities on behalf of Sri Lanka in your region of accreditation. I believe my brief address to you today will be the launching pad to usher a new level of cooperation and contacts between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and your offices in implementing the vision of our government in the field of our foreign relations.

Dear Consuls,

I recognize that all of you are personalities with distinguished careers and professions of your own. But you have come forward to serve in an honorary capacity spending your time, effort and resources to promote relations between Sri Lanka and your region of accreditation for mutual benefit. Therefore, I am grateful to you for having voluntarily accepted this task and responsibility which requires continuous commitment and sustained interest in affairs of Sri Lanka.

Your representations and your work serve to fulfill an important gap in terms of Sri Lanka’s representation abroad and its ability to reach out to the world since we are unable to have a larger number of home based representations in many more capitals of the world. In this context, my Minister of Foreign Affairs and I consider all of you as belonging to our extended family of officials who work hard often under difficult circumstances to represent our interests abroad.

Dear Friends,

We live in challenging times. While some of these challenges are global in nature, others are local. But every nation, big or small requires to deal with these challenges with the aim of providing its people, safety, security, and social and economic well-being. In an increasingly globalizing world, it is important for developing countries like ours to be mindful to focus on the “village” so that we ensure the rural economy does not suffer and is not left behind. At the same time, village concepts and habits that have served our societies well, in the past can be revived and mainstreamed in our transition to a “global village”.

It is my firm belief that each of our citizens should be able to contribute to the development process of Sri Lanka and also be beneficiaries of the process, becoming partners of a larger global village. Our policies for the future of Sri Lanka which are already in implementation therefore include community based rural development for the empowerment of the poor. Priority has been given to the development of infrastructure facilities. The key sectors of electricity, highways, irrigation, water supply, ports and airports, transport facilities, cities and investment zones have been prioritized for development throughout the country.

My dear Consuls and Friends,

Our country is blessed with many natural attributes. In addition to such bounties of nature in our beautiful Island our strategic location and commodities that we produce make us an important link to the rest of world.

In this context, the Foreign Policy of our Government is based on the concept of friendship with all. For nearly five decades since Independence, we have followed a policy of non-alignment, manifesting a policy of good relations with all countries and enmity towards none.

Our friendship with countries in the region is of paramount importance and we continue to endeavour to nurture good relations with them. In this regard, Sri Lanka values the opportunity accorded to chair SAARC this year. Sri Lanka also values its membership among 192 members of the United Nations family of States. And we, together with all member States of the UN, are committed to promote universal values pertaining to all fields of human endeavour. We also remain firmly committed to the Millennium Development Goals of the UN.

Dear friends,

Sri Lanka has achieved much despite being a developing country. Implementing the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of maternity and infant mortality rates are victories we have already achieved. In terms of physical quality of life, we rank high among developing countries. In per capita income terms, we are now a lower middle income country augmented with high per capita purchasing power parity.

Our economic indicators display a robust economy that has been able to withstand the on-going global financial crisis relatively well. We stress on taking care of vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities, orphans, the elderly and poorer segments of society who are provided with social safety nets to assure their basic well-being. We encourage the private sector as the engine of growth for our economy and endeavour to build a healthy economic and social relationship between the private sector and public services.

The biggest challenge we face in achieving our full potential in terms of economic and social well-being and prosperity has been the realization of peace. Every government in Sri Lanka during the last three decades or so has made many efforts to achieve peace with the LTTE, a ruthless and heavily armed terrorist group which has been banned in several countries including the USA, UK, India, Canada, and the European Union. All efforts at achieving peace with the LTTE however, failed, with the terrorist group continuously resorting to violence.

When I was elected President in 2005, in presenting my vision to the people, I included a commitment to establish peace in all regions of the country. I promised to continue talks with the LTTE, although the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil community and although their basic strategies do not fulfill the needs of the Tamil people. However, my sincere efforts were rejected by the LTTE which responded with an intensified campaign of violence and terror, violating every provision of the Ceasefire Agreement that was in place at the time.

As the democratically elected President of my country, I had no option but to take resolute action to defend the people of my country by taking measures to eradicate terrorism from our soil. Determined efforts by Security Forces to free civilians who have been held hostage in the areas dominated by terrorists are now bearing results in a very successful manner. Our Security Forces are not only engaged in freeing the territory held by terrorists, but they are also engaged in a humanitarian mission. Their mission is to free the people in the areas under LTTE domination and re-instate peace, freedom and democracy to the Tamil people of the North having succeeded in the East.

It is time for you to inform the world of the progress we are making towards restoring democracy and freedom in the north, and counter the ill informed charges being made about the plight of the innocent Tamil people there. It is your special task to make it known that the sufferings of the Tamil people in the north are those imposed by the LTTE who falsely claim to be their liberators, but are in fact their biggest oppressors.

People in your respective countries must know that these innocent Tamil people are held hostage for use as a human shield to safeguard terrorist leaders from the humanitarian forces of liberation and freedom, the heroic Sri Lankan troops. The world must know through you that the Dawn of a New Spring of freedom and development awaits the north of Sri Lanka.

The defeat of terrorism will enable all communities of our country to participate openly in a process of discussion and negotiation to find appropriate durable solutions to their grievances without fear or intimidation. This would result in an honourable peace where every citizen of this country would be able to live with dignity.

You can also play an important role in acknowledging the contribution of our heroic troops to the winning of a genuine freedom for all Sri Lankans, and help strengthen the many projects aimed at paying national tribute to them. As far as I know, no Army in the world has been as successful as ours, not only in combating a most dreadful terror group, but also ensuring that there were zero civilian casualties.

Dear Friends,

The day is not far when we would defeat terrorism and the opportunity to create a peaceful and prosperous nation in which rights of all communities are preserved and protected, becomes a reality. I endeavour to ensure the dignity and the rights of all individuals, irrespective of ethnicity or religious affiliation, and provide all my people a life with prospects for upward mobility.

This brings a great responsibility on you to raise levels of awareness of Sri Lanka, abroad. This is the time for us to tell the whole world that what we fought against was terrorism and a group that espoused the cause of terrorism, and not a particular ethnic community.

Dear Friends,

It is for this purpose that I need the support and participation not only of people of this country, but of the international community as well. I seek your help to explain to our friends in the international community the challenges faced by Sri Lanka, a vibrant democracy, in confronting challenges it faces as a result of terrorism and in establishing a durable peace. Your role as Honorary Consuls is as important as Ambassadors representing our country. Indeed, I consider all of you as de facto Ambassadors in terms of taking my message with the positive potential of our country and goodwill of our people to those in the international community.

Dear friends,

As mentioned earlier in my address, chief among my efforts to build a new Sri Lanka based on my vision, the Mahinda Chintana is the improvement of living conditions of those who live in the villages. Our aim is to prevent migration from village to town by increasing the gross productivity of the village and link the village with the rest of the world. Therefore, I look to you, your experience, your wisdom and access to the world to help us in this task. I urge you to constantly stay in touch with our country and its people through all available means. You should constantly inquire about the main issues and concerns in our country. Through increased interaction and resulting understanding, it should be possible for you to even make your own assessments about the best possible ways in which to assist Sri Lanka.

For you to represent Sri Lanka and speak on its behalf, a good understanding of Sri Lanka, its people and its challenges is essential. Although, this two-day interaction may not be sufficient for this task, it will provide you an invaluable opportunity to establish connections with those you will meet during your stay. That will, I am sure, mark the beginning of a new partnership with Sri Lanka.

I hope that during your stay here you will use the opportunity to leave the City of Colombo and visit even briefly the interior of our country so that you see for yourselves, the villages, the scenic beauty of Sri Lanka and also assess the potential for tourism and economic development. Finally, let me convey formally my appreciation to every one of you for the service you perform for Sri Lanka and the contributions you make. We seek your services for our country not only in the traditional role of a Consul, but also to actively engage in the search for solutions to the challenges we face.

I would also value your role as intermediaries in bringing foreign investors to our country, and as agents who will increase three or four-fold the number of tourists visiting us. I also request you to make your office in your home country, a centre that will place before the world the strengths of our motherland and its many attractions and gifts of nature. Dear Consuls,

I wish you all a happy and enjoyable stay. And I would like to induct you on this occasion to the ranks of pioneers in building a new Sri Lanka with peace and prosperity.

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