Calmy-Rey urges Sri Lankans to find peace

Micheline Calmy-Rey met the Sri Lankan prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, on Tuesday Keystone

Switzerland's foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has warned that Sri Lanka risks sliding back into civil war if peace talks do not resume soon.

This content was published on October 12, 2004

Speaking during an official visit to the troubled island, she said both the Sri Lankan government and rebel Tamil Tigers needed to head back to the negotiating table.

“I have the impression that the ceasefire could be in danger,” said Calmy-Rey on Tuesday.

She added that a “lack of confidence” was preventing both parties from getting the ball rolling once again.

The Sri Lankan government and the rebels have expressed a commitment to resuming peace talks that came to a standstill nearly 19 months ago.

Swiss expertise

Calmy-Rey made the comments at the end of a five-day visit to the island where she held talks with Sri Lankan leaders, including the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse.

Switzerland has supported efforts to end the two-decade civil war, which killed almost 65,000 people before Norway brokered a truce in February 2002.

During her meeting with the president on Monday, Calmy-Rey pledged that Switzerland would do anything it could to help restart the peace process.

She said her country was ready to lend its expertise in the areas of humanitarian aid, demining and federalism.

The Swiss believe their country’s federal system could serve as a model for the island state.

Little progress

Swiss officials concede, though, that little progress has been made towards achieving a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

They say that despite the truce, political murders and the recruitment of child soldiers are still taking place.

But it is not simply a question of persuading the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan authorities to sit down and talk.

The governing People’s Alliance had promised to head back to the negotiating table, but its coalition partner, the nationalist JVP, has refused, claiming that the Tigers’ demand for a self-governing authority is out of the question.

Just before Calmy-Rey’s visit, a high-level Tiger delegation held discussions in Geneva, focusing on how to resume negotiations.

Switzerland is home to some 40,000 Sri Lankan nationals – mostly Tamils – who fled the island during the war.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

During her five-day visit to Sri Lanka, Swiss foreign minister Calmy-Rey met with government and opposition leaders to talk about bilateral relations between the two countries and the peace process.

She also met with Asian-based Swiss ambassadors and development officials to discuss Switzerland's expanding role in Asia.

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