Political solutions that address the grievances which fuelled the long-running civil war in Sri Lanka are necessary to heal the wounds left by the conflict, the top United Nations political official said today as he wrapped up a two-day visit to the South Asian country.
“Bitterness and division that took decades to accumulate will not dissolve overnight in Sri Lanka, but now is the time to make major efforts to begin healing those wounds,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told journalists in the capital, Colombo.
The Government has taken measures since the war ended in May last year to show a shift away “from war footing to a peacetime mindset,” such as relaxing emergency decrees, but more opportunities could be taken to diminish the military presence in the former conflict areas.
“It is also critical to safeguard the independence of institutions, freedom of the press and the work of non-governmental actors,” said Mr. Pascoe.
The Under-Secretary-General held talks yesterday with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in what he termed a “good meeting,” before holding discussions with other Cabinet officials, including Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris and Attorney General Mohan Peiris.
He also met with leaders of the political opposition, Tamil and Muslim representatives, civil society organizations and members of the diplomatic corps.
In Mullaitivu, a northern town formerly controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and site of the final battles with Government forces, Mr. Pascoe said he saw local officials working “energetically on behalf of the returnees” who number some 60,000 in the camps and 90,000 living with host families.
“The United Nations appreciated the Government’s efforts thus far, supported by the international community,” Mr. Pascoe told journalists, commending UN efforts carried out under the leadership of UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne.
He praised the reopening of schools and access to food and basic health care, but said one of the biggest concerns is the lack of building materials to reconstruct homes.
Turning to accountability for the allegations of humanitarian and human rights violations during the conflict, Mr. Pascoe said that Government officials had assured him that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission “will provide Sri Lankans with a credible and independent accountability mechanism.”
While the Secretary-General intends to “soon” establish a panel of experts that will advise him on international standards and comparative experiences with accountability, “responsibility for carrying out a credible process” rests first and foremost with the Sri Lankan authorities.
This was Mr. Pascoe’s third visit to Sri Lanka since last year.