President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka: the Battle Against Terrorism can be won - but not by Half-Measures

Jan 13, 2010, 06:46 ET from President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, January 13 /PRNewswire/ -- People around the world have come to learn the terrible cost of terrorism - and that tough measures are needed to combat it.

When 3,000 people died in New York and Washington D.C. on one day in September 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom, plus other ally governments, responded by mounting an unprecedented war on terror.

When 56 people died in London on one day in July 2005, the UK Government asked its Parliament to allow it to detain suspects without charge for weeks at a time. Today it is seeking the right to monitor every email and website visit in the country in order to tackle terrorism.

The world must not forget that we too had aircraft flown deliberately into buildings. We too had trains full of innocent passengers blown to bits. But we had worse still - the invention of the suicide belt, the first use of women as suicide bombers, the assassination of one of my predecessors as President, thousands of child soldiers coerced into fighting and ethnic cleansing pursued in occupied territories on a massive scale.

And further, the world must not forget that Sri Lanka's own Tamil community was terrorised and extorted by the organisation claiming to fight in their name.

We fought against an organisation which the FBI described as "one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world". That terrorist organisation was rightly banned in India, the US, Australia, the UK and the entire EU.

We did not have just a single day of murder and horror. We suffered for day after day after day, for more than 25 years.

Some 75,000 people died in Sri Lanka in a brutal campaign of terrorism. Just like Governments elsewhere we could not stand back. We too had to take tough and decisive measures.

Just like those of our opposite numbers in Britain and America, our actions were questioned by some international human rights groups - observers who had been less than outspoken in their condemnation of the terrorism from which all of my fellow Sri Lankans had suffered.

All that we seek now is a greater understanding of why we had to do what we did, and how doing so has created the opportunity for a united, peaceful, prosperous island for our people. We welcome the recent report from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee which indicates that such an improvement in understanding and mutual respect is coming. We wish to be friends with the West, and will seize any fair opportunity to be so.

There is one other, striking difference between our story and that of countries in the West. We did not just take on terrorism, we beat it. We ended our own war on terror, and now we are building peace.

While the threat of terrorism can never entirely be eliminated, we can now move, as others cannot, to dismantle the extraordinary measures we had to take to battle those who would murder the innocent.

The refugee camps in Sri Lanka will be closed by the end of next month, demining of war zones is proceeding pace with much, welcome international assistance, new schools, roads and hospitals are all being built in areas where months ago only violence prevailed. Of the 300,000 Sri Lankans originally displaced by fighting, less than 100,000 now wait to return home, free to come and go as they please during the intervening period.

The British Government is seeking sweeping new powers to fight future threats. By contrast, my Government is giving up many of the powers we took to end our national crisis.

So while other countries still have to restrict civil liberties in the name of beating terrorism, we have defeated terrorism, and are now enlarging and entrenching rights for all our people.

Britain and America are still fighting in Afghanistan. Peace has come to Sri Lanka.

Today my Government is pursuing a strategy of national reconciliation. We aim to build a permanent, just and lasting peace for all the people of Sri Lanka. No-one will be left out, no-one will be left behind.

We are ready to engage positively with anyone and everyone around the world who wishes to help us achieve our dream of a united and prosperous land, and enable Sri Lanka to take its rightful place in the world as an island of unsurpassed beauty, enterprise and now peace.

This could only have been achieved through the decisive action taken last May and we make no apologies for taking those difficult decisions for the benefit and prospects of all Sri Lankans.

Sri Lanka's achievement in ending terrorism perhaps contains valuable insights for those Governments whose forces are still fighting and dying in the war against terror. For those countries who wish to re-examine how to defeat terrorism, we will happily share our own experience of tackling this pernicious threat to the integrity and security of nation states.

Written by: President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka

SOURCE President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka