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Multi-party parliamentary select committee will consider constitutional amendments-G.L. Peiris at Capitol Hill

External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris attended a a series of Capitol Hill meetings on Wednesday, the second day of his four-day official visit to Washington.

External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris meeting with Republican Senator. John McCain

He discussed, with members of the House of Representatives, Sri Lanka’s progress in post-conflict reconciliation and development, as well as reform measures that had been designed to ensure a lasting peace, a spokesman for SL embassy in Washington said.

Prof. Peiris first met Representatives Chris Van Hollen (Democrat – Maryland) and Robert Aderholt (Republican – Alabama), to discuss recommendations made in late 2011 by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which examined Sri Lanka’s conflict against terrorism, which was successfully concluded three years ago.

Minister Peiris explained that the Sri Lankan government had developed a mechanism to implement the recommendations accepted by the government, which would be directed from the office of the Presidential Secretariat.

During the talks, Minister Peiris noted that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had met on Monday to discuss matters related to multi-party participation in a Parliamentary Select Committee, which would consider Constitutional amendments.

It was important to the government that minority parties in Parliament participate in that process which should be all inclusive, said Prof. Peiris.

Both Van Hollen and Aderholt are co-chairs of the Sri Lanka Caucus in the House of Representatives. Van Hollen’s father once served as US Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Prof. Peiris briefed the two congressmen on Sri Lanka’s trilingual language initiative – a programme to urge Sri Lankans to learn Sinhala, Tamil and English – to foster better understanding among all Sri Lankans. The government, the minister said, had also established a national database to aid people whose relatives had gone missing during the conflict.

Minister Peiris held a meeting with Representatives Heath Shuler (Democrat – North Carolina), Ben Chandler (Democrat – Kentucky) and Jack Kingston (Republican – Georgia).

At another Capitol Hill meeting, Prof. Peiris briefed members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, including the committee’s Democratic Party ranking member, Rep. Howard Berman (Democrat – California), Steve Chabot (Republican – Ohio), chairman of the committee’s Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, and Rep. Ed Royce (Republican – California), chairman of the committee’s Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade Subcommittee. There was an in-depth discussion of current issues, in which the American legislators showed keen interest.

Committee members commended Sri Lanka on its reconciliation and development progress since the May 19, 2009 conclusion of the conflict against the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They expressed enthusiasm for continued cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka, and inquired about Sri Lanka’s plans to implement the LLRC’s recommendations.

Rep. Royce stated that he was specifically concerned about post-conflict international money laundering as “vexing and problematic for future.” Solving that problem, he said, was “important for long term stability.”

Prof. Peiris catalogued the progress made in Sri Lanka since the conflict, including the resettlement of displaced persons in the North, the investment in infrastructure there, the revitalisation of the agricultural and fisheries industries in former conflict zones and the release of more than 11,600 former LTTE militants following a program of job and education training.

There were government controls to police money laundering, and that the government of President Rajapaksa considered reconciliation process a high priority, said Prof. Peiris. He discussed the strength of Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US with regard to transnational security, the integrity of sea lanes and international navigation.

Land ownership and possession issues, Minister Peiris said, remained a complex challenge. The LTTE had conducted a broad campaign of ethnic cleansing in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka over many years, displacing land owners and giving that land to its supporters. Now, Prof. Peiris said, with the return of normalcy, there was a pressing need for a coherent structure to address the issues connected with land.

On Wednesday afternoon Minister Peiris participated in a round-table discussion on Sri Lanka and South Asia that was co-hosted by two premiere Washington think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

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