Sri Lanka's future holds promise. So said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan government achieved a milestone few though possible, by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending nearly 3 decades of conflict that had cost tens of thousands of lives.
The end of Sri Lanka's conflict has brought impressive dividends, said Assistant Secretary Blake. The country's stock market has risen 150 percent in the last 15 months, the highest performing stock market in Asia. But economic dividends will not by themselves heal the wounds of war and secure lasting peace and prosperity for Sri Lanka. "A range of humanitarian, political and other steps," said Assistance Secretary Blake, "must be taken to ensure the Tamils of Sri Lanka a future of hope, opportunity and dignity."
On the humanitarian front, most of the 300,000 Tamils who had been displaced by the fighting in the North have been permitted to leave temporary camps and begin to reestablish their lives. The U.S. has been a leader in providing $89 million in food and other humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons. Additional U.S. assistance for demining has made it possible for many of them to return to their villages and homes.
The U.S. has also provided $25 million to encourage new private sector partnerships and agricultural development to provide livelihoods for people in the North of Sri Lanka. It will now be important for the government to organize local and provincial council elections as soon as possible so that a new, freely elected leadership can emerge in the North for the first time in almost thirty years.
Finally, the U.S. welcomes the establishment of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has held public hearings in Colombo, and in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This commission was established to hear the concerns of the people of Sri Lanka and to provide recommendations to Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The U.S. has expressed its hope that the commission will probe violations of international humanitarian law, identify those responsible, and make appropriate recommendations.
Having defeated one of the most murderous terrorist groups in the world, the government of Sri Lanka now has an unprecedented opportunity to build a tolerant, multi-ethnic democracy in Sri Lanka.