Calmy-Rey talks peace with Sri Lankan president
Switzerland says it is willing to contribute in any way it can to help restart Sri Lanka's stalled peace process.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey made the pledge during a meeting with Sri Lanka's president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, on Monday.
Negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and rebel Tamil Tigers have been at a standstill since April last year.
During her meeting with Kumaratunga in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Calmy-Rey said Switzerland was ready to lend its expertise in the areas of humanitarian aid, demining and federalism.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ivo Sieber said the talks had also covered ties between Sri Lanka and Switzerland, which is home to around 40,000 Sri Lankan nationals.
As part of her five-day visit to Sri Lanka, Calmy-Rey is also attending a conference of Swiss ambassadors to Asia, which is discussing how to strengthen Switzerland’s presence and influence in the region.
“The growing economic and political importance of Asia means we have to review our diplomatic strategy for the next ten to 15 years,” she told swissinfo before leaving for Sri Lanka.
“Not being part of one of the big blocs, Switzerland cannot count on others to defend its interests, like European Union members can, for example.”
Despite cutbacks to the foreign ministry’s budget, Calmy-Rey said Switzerland would be more inclined to increase its diplomatic presence in Sri Lanka, and Asia in general, than to reduce it.
Calmy-Rey's visit comes just days after the end of a five-day meeting of European-based Tamils, which was held behind closed doors at a Lake Geneva hotel.
After the meeting, Tamil leaders accused the Sri Lankan government of stalling on peace.
Switzerland is home to around 22,000 Tamil exiles who have fled Sri Lanka since fighting broke out in 1983 between the Tamil Tigers and government forces.
The rebels want to carve out an independent homeland for the island's northeastern Tamil minority, who claim discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
Stephan Husy, head of the foreign ministry’s section for operations and expert pool for civilian peacebuilding, conceded that little progress had been made towards achieving a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.
“We must be glad that the truce continues. But there are still political murders, and the recruitment of child soldiers [continues],” he said.
“There has been no breakthrough in the peace process, and discussions between the parties have not resumed. With Norway’s help, we are preparing the ground of both parties individually,” he said.
Ahead of her trip, Calmy-Rey repeated that the Swiss federal system could serve as a model for a peaceful Sri Lanka - an idea first put forward as part of a peace plan brokered by Norway in February 2002.
“In Switzerland, people of different cultures, languages and regions have to live together,” she said.
“Sri Lanka has the same issues – and Switzerland has credibility there.”
Nearly 65,000 people were killed before the two sides signed the Norwegian-brokered truce, but formal peace talks were suspended in April 2003.
Although the truce still holds in principle, the island has been gripped by escalating violence that has killed scores of people.
swissinfo with agencies
Two years after a ceasefire between government and Tamil rebels, killings continue in Sri Lanka.
Micheline Calmy-Rey has been meeting government officials, opposition groups and civilians in an effort to boost the peace process.
In October 2003, Tamil Tigers presented a plan calling for a largely independent territory with administration, police and legal system, access to the sea, and the right to tax and receive foreign aid.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga initially rejected it as a step towards a separate state.
On Monday, Kumaratunga said she wished to resume talks to prevent Sri Lanka sliding back into conflict.
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