Addressing a group of Colombo based Ambassadors on the recent disturbances, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said that the events in its internal dimension was a direct attempt to alienate the Muslim community from the government while the external expression of this campaign has as its objective the purpose of driving a wedge between Sri Lanka and Muslim countries, with a view to weakening Sri Lanka in international fora. He said the skillfully conceived and co-ordinated character of the campaign is apparent, and substantial funding as well as other forms of material support from foreign sources is also in evidence.
The redeeming feature, he pointed out, is that mainstream opinion in both the Sinhala and the Muslim communities is moderate and reasonable, and strongly opposed to violence in any form. This is the product, he said, of a long tradition of mutually reliant co-existence of the Sinhala and Muslim communities in the towns and villages of Sri Lanka in a spirit of total empathy, participating freely in each other’s social events.
“Pre-emptive action was taken in the form of arresting persons resorting to provocative conduct or being found with material which could have been used to disrupt the peace. While the immediate requirement was, of course, the establishment of order, the government attaches great importance to measures designed to thwart the actions of small minority intent on creating religious discord. With this objective in view, a vigorous civil society campaign involving the business community, professionals, organisations and academics is being organised to ensure amity,” he said.
A vicious campaign is being carried out to malign the government, This campaign, he elaborated, has two aspects.
The minister met with the group of Ambassadors and High Commissioners at the ministry for a discussion on current issues.
He said a country that has paid a heavy price for communal discord over a period of three decades, will certainly resist with all the energy at its command, any effort by fringe mischievous elements to promote divisions and antagonisms.
The minister referred to the attempts in some quarters to derive partisan political advantage from recent events and to resort to actions which are entirely counterproductive.
This is a situation in which sectarian political and other interests must yield to the far greater collective interest in harmony and solidarity, he said. The disruptive elements consist of an extremist fringe on both sides, and it is necessary to be balanced in any proper appraisal of the situation, Prof. Peiris said.
The minister said that he was with President Mahinda Rajapaksa when news of some disturbing events first reached the President in Bolivia. He described the prompt action taken by the President in getting in touch with religious leaders, the security establishment and the political authority.
Leaders of parties within the government rushed to the scene and played a significant part in calming passions and bringing about understanding. Prof. Peiris expressed particular appreciation of the salutary initiatives by prominent Buddhist monks and the moulavis in assembling as a matter of urgency and restoring clam.
He said that the law enforcement authorities were rapidly deployed to bring the situation under control. To assist the Police, the Army was called out initially in Alutgama and Beruwala, and subsequently in Welipenna and Matugama. While about 60 persons were arrested, 47 were retained in custody.
The government, in terms of the overall national interest and event its own political interest, has the strongest motive to prevent disharmony, and any suggestion to the contrary is both malicious and unfounded, Minister Peiris said.
Sri Lanka’s legislation, the minister pointed out, contains ample provision against statements or behaviour intended to cause religious discord. He cited, as examples, provisions in the Penal Code as well as the specific terms of section 3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights Act, passed by the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 2007.
He added that strict instructions have been given to the Police not to permit any rallies or demonstrations which contravene these laws.
The need for an objective approach, the minister said, is underlined by the fact that both communities regrettably suffered harm in the recent events, so that a determined effort across the board to prevent their recurrence is of urgent importance.
The External Affairs Minister emphasised that these are issues which must be resolved within the country and that any move to invite external intervention, although it may appear superficially attractive to some, would in fact prove disastrous for all. The envoys participated in a discussion with the minister.
The discussion was attended by Aziz Ahmadzada, Ambassador of Afghanistan, Harimawan Suyitno, Ambassador of Indonesia, Kahtan Taha Khalaf, Ambassador of Iraq, Zuhair Zaid, Ambassador of Palestine, Abdulaziz Jammaz, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Iskander Kemal Okyay, Ambassador of Turkey, Abudlhamid Al Mulla, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Sufiur Rahman, High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Azmi Zainuddin, High Commissioner of Malaysia, S.K. Ahmed, High Commissioner of Nigeria, Major-General Qasim Qureshi, High Commissioner of Pakistan, Reham Alfeqig, Deputy Head of Mission of Egypt, Ebrahim Khari, Charge d’ Affaires of Iran, Ahmad Almairi, Charge d’ Affaires Kuwait, Kamal Benalashnar, Charge d’ Affaires of Libya, Rajab Al-Habshi, Charge d’ Affaires of Oman, and Dr. Hassan Niyaz, Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives.