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Australia fully supports reconciliation efforts - Lankan High Commissioner



Don Randall, M.P. Vice Chair of the Australia – Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group, David Jonston, M.P., Shadow Minister of Defence and Senator Catryna Bilyk, Senator for Tasmania at the session

When the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora backed by the international media is still spreading mythical stories about the humanitarian operation of the Security Forces Sri Lanka cannot remain silent.

If Sri Lanka remains silent on the Britains Channel 4 video clips which are detrimental to the country’s image, the entire international community will believe in all these mythical stories as gospel truth. Therefore, the High Commissions and Embassies of Sri Lanka have been vested with the task of countering all false propaganda by pro-LTTE elements.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe who was involved in the humanitarian operations as the Director General of Naval Operations and the former Navy Commander, is engage in an aggressive campaign along with the Sri Lankan community in Australia to counter false propaganda against Sri Lanka.

High Commission made a presentation on the humanitarian operation and reconciliation efforts to the Human Rights Sub Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of the Australian Federal Parliament. The High Commissioner’s interaction with the Australian MPs and media was appreciated by many including the MPs and the media.

He called over 25 Heads of Mission of relevant countries in Canberra and explained in detail the factual position and handed over government publications. In an interview with the Sunday Observer regarding his mission in Australia, the High Commissioner said that there are many Sri Lankan community organisations and individuals who have taken numerous steps by way of letters, officials complaints to authorities and participation in fora to counter the channel 4 propaganda.

“The enthusiasm of these organisations and individuals is encouraging”, he said. Steps have been taken to educate university students by way of seminars and workshops.


Sri Lankan expatriate community at the Cherrybrook Community Centre in NSW

A seminar on “Sri Lankan Youth Unite and Lead” will be held on September 10, in Melbourne organised by the Sri Lankan community.

Following is the excerpts of the interview:

Q: There were protests from some communities and organisations especially from the Tamil Diaspora when you were nominated as the Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Australia. Was there any impact on your appointment from those protests and how did the Australian government react to the situation?

A: There was no impact on my appointment of such protests and the Australian Government reacted very positively towards the Sri Lanka Government in accepting my appointment.

Q: What sort of image is Sri Lanka having among the Australian Government and its citizens after completion of the humanitarian operation? Have you initiated a dialogue with sections of the Australian political system (MPs etc) who may have been sympathetic to pro-LTTE groups?


The High Commissioner, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe addressing the Sri Lankan expatriate community

A: The Australian Government and the citizens of Australia are pleased that terrorism has been eradicated from Sri Lanka and peace has dawned in the country.Yes. I have initiated a dialogue through the Australia-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group to explain true facts related to the humanitarian operation. In one such initiative I addressed the Australian Members of Parliament from the Government and the Opposition in the Parliament House and explained the contents of recent reports on Sri Lanka’s humanitarian effort, factual analysis of the humanitarian operation and the experience of the past two years of financial inclusiveness in the North and East and the critical response of the government to accusations contained in the Channel 4 video by way of the documentary “Lies Agreed Upon”:

The interaction progressed for almost two and half hours with an audience which also included officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian print and electronic media and other representatives of other line ministries in Australia. I also shared my perspectives on post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts of the Government.

In my presentation I emphasized that training in IHL, Rules of Engagement in Armed Conflict and Human Rights Laws was an integral part of the training given to Sri Lankan armed forces personnel and this moulded their conduct in the final phase of the conflict. I also highlighted the measures taken by all armed forces personnel to prevent civilian casualties throughout the conflict. I drew the attention of the audience to the fact that the Sri Lankan armed forces had received military training alongside the best in the world at different stages of their careers and highlighted the investment made by the country in sophisticated radar and other equipment to identify terrorist targets and to take maximum precautions to save civilian lives in all combat operations.

In my address I elaborated, on the allegations made regarding the denial of humanitarian assistance to civilians and my involvement in the coordination of the delivery of assistance during the final phases of the conflict.

I also pointed out that the alleged civilian casualty figure of 40,000 was completely false and explained the supreme sacrifices made by armed force and police in rescuing civilians and the exemplary conduct of the military.

A part of the video documentary “Lies Agreed Upon” was screened during this interaction and I responded to questions raised by the media who were present at the event.

Q: What is the impact the Channel 4 video could have against Sri Lanka and what was the reaction of Australian citizens and the Government after the telecast of this video footage in ABC’s Four Corners program?

A: There was a certain degree of negative impact following the telecasting of the Channel 4 video on ABC’s Four Corners program initially among a smaller section of the Australian public. However, the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka and the High Commission has helped to put the record straight.

Q: Was there any effort on the part of the Sri Lanka High Commission to counter the Channel 4 video and the myth about the war crime allegations on Sri Lankan security forces?

A: However, the timely action taken by the Sri Lanka High Commission in protesting to the ABC in writing prior to the telecast as well as my personal communication with the Executive Producer of the program helped showing that the allegations made in the video are unsubstantiated and baseless.

The release of the Defence Ministry Report “Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis” and the documentary “Lies Agreed Upon” have countered the myth about war crimes allegations on Sri Lankan security forces.

Copies of this Government publication and video were distributed at the event held at the Australian Federal Parliament on the August 16, and made available to all Diplomatic Missions, electronic broadcasting channels and print media.

They were also distributed to state officials and media through the Consul General in Sydney and Sri Lankan Honorary Consuls elsewhere in Australia.During my visits to Perth, Sydney and Melbourne I took the opportunity to address a large section of the Sri Lankan community and explained the factual position of the humanitarian operation and the reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation process of the Government.

Q: How successful are the efforts made by you to counter false propaganda and how do the Australian Government and citizens react to campaigns launched by the Sri Lankan Government?

A: I consider that the efforts of the Government and the High Commission are having the desired effects of neutralising the negative image amongst the general and right thinking public. However, there are elements which are still supporting terrorist fronts attempting to paint a false picture of Sri Lanka on foreign soil.

A recent response by me to an adverse article on President Mahinda Rajapaksa which appeared in The Sunday Times (WA) of 21st August was published the following week in the same newspaper neutralising the negative impact of the original article. You can refer to the Sri Lanka High Commission website for details (www.slhcaust.org).In addition to Federal parliamentarians and Government officials I have taken particular efforts to appraise ministers, parliamentarians during my visits to states.

I had the opportunity to meet the Governor General of Australia and Governor of New South Wales and briefed them on current situation in the country.

The Australian Government authorities in the Capital as well as states are supporting the efforts of the Sri Lanka High Commission in reconciliation and reconstruction efforts following the end of the conflict. This effort is also supported by the Australian High Commission in Colombo.

I will be making a presentation at the ACT branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs on September 5, on “Sri Lanka: Internal Conflict, Humanitarian Operation and Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation”.

I have also requested an opportunity to speak at the National Press Club and for an interview from the ABC.

Q: Illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka and other Asian countries is a major problem to the Australian Government. Were there any discussions between you and the Australian Government in this regard and what was the outcome?

A: There were no specific discussions on this matter. However, during discussions with senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and members of parliament it was expressed that the Australian Government was grateful to the Sri Lankan government for preventing illegal boat movements from Sri Lankan shores during the past two years.

The Australian Government is taking numerous steps in preventing such illegal boats reaching their shores especially to prevent human smuggling racketeers from exploiting the Australian Government’s goodwill.

Q: Within the short span in office how could you convince the Australian business community and tourists to visit Sri Lanka and promote Sri Lanka as a tourist destination?

A: The dawn of peace has set the course for tourists to peacefully and happily look forward to a fruitful holiday in Sri Lanka.

Due to the long-standing ties between Australia and Sri Lanka and the pacific islands, the number of visitors from this region is bound to increase.

It was evident in the test match played between Australia and Sri Lanka in Galle where a large number of Australians were present.

I intend to launch tourist and business promotion activities.

During my visits to Sydney, Perth and Melbourne I spoke to the travel agents and business communities about the opportunities available in Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vision to make Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia has been emphasised by the Sri Lanka High Commission officials. Economic growth achieved during the past two years is bound to give confidence to the investors and tourists.

The Australian economy amidst European downturns must be made use by Sri Lanka.

Q: What are your future plans for the betterment of the Sri Lankan community in Australia and improving the bilateral relationship between the two countries ? Have you initiated a dialogue with the moderate sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora so that they could make a contribution to the home country, especially the welfare of conflict-hit Tamil civilians?

A: I have initiated the setting up of umbrella organisations in respective states coordinating the work of many associations and groups that have been in existence for a long period. Such fora have already been formed and they include members of all communities. It is encouraging to note that the moderate and right-thinking Tamil and Muslim diaspora has volunteered to initiate business ventures and reconciliation efforts amongst themselves in Australia and also in Sri Lanka. I contacted the Governor of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province to promote a reconstruction program in Mullaitivu through an Australian citizen who happens to be a Sri Lankan Tamil. I will continue this effort to improve the engagement amongst all Sri Lankan communities in Australia.

Q: Australia is a well known education destination. Is there any possibility of providing more opportunities for Sri Lankan students to study there?

A: There are ample opportunities not only for Sri Lankans to study in Australia but also for Australians to have interaction with the Sri Lankan education system by way of studying as well as teaching. In this regard, the recent visit of Minister of Higher Education S.B. Dissanayaka, to Melbourne helped strengthen ties in the higher education sector between the two countries. I have already met officials of the University of Canberra, Australian National University (Canberra), Monash University, University of Melbourne and the Sri Lankan students of all the universities. The Sri Lanka High Commission has also taken steps to raise the level of University entry prerequisite financial deposit from level 4 to level 3 so that the financial guarantees needed for Sri Lankan students to study in Australia would be reasonable. This I have done in close coordination with authorised Sri Lankan agencies who are channelling these students to Australia.

Q: Sri Lanka and Australia enjoy a fruitful trade relationship. What are the steps taken to develop trade between the two countries?

A: The current progress of Sri Lankan foreign trade in imports and exports need to be capitalised to improve the Sri Lanka-Australia trade relations.

Although the balance of trade is in favour of Australia strategic marketing and quality products would improve exports to Australia. Sri Lankan exporters led by the tea industry are participating in the Fine Food Festival which is due to open in Sydney on September 5. Steps have been taken to encourage maximum Australian participation at Sri Lanka trade fairs.

The peaceful environment in Sri Lanka and the numerous opportunities available are bound to create interest amongst Australian businesses.

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