A meeting between Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter centred in Switzerland yesterday on the progress in the reform and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka and the expansion of bilateral relations between Switzerland and the island state in the Indian Ocean.
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said the two ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding on regular political consultations between representatives of the two states. They also agreed to explore the possibility of a migration partnership between Switzerland and Sri Lanka.
A little over a year after his visit to Sri Lanka, where he held talks with representatives of the Sri Lankan government and of the Tamil community in Colombo and Jaffna, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter received the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera, in Bern for a working visit. This is the first visit by a Sri Lankan foreign minister to Switzerland in more than 30 years.
One of the main topics of discussion was the progress made in the new government’s reform and reconciliation programme, which is intended to mitigate the effects of the civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for almost three decades and to enable a return to stability and offer new prospects for the country.
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said Burkhalter congratulated Samaraweera on the progress achieved so far and assured him that Switzerland would continue and indeed step up its support for the process.
Burkhalter and Samaraweera also discussed possibilities to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, which are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations this year.
Burkhalter and Samaraweera agreed that in addition to cooperating on peacebuilding and human rights, there is potential for strengthening cooperation between the two countries in particular in the areas of economic relations (trade volume in 2015: approx. CHF 300 million), migration, education and cultural exchanges.
They also agreed that a migration partnership between the two countries ought to be established. Talks to work out the technical details will be held soon. The two ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding in Bern providing for regular political consultations between representatives of the two states.
In view of the civil war in Sri Lanka, in 2003 Switzerland opened a Swiss Humanitarian Aid office of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Jaffna, the largest city in the Tamil north, in order to support the return of Tamils (e.g. through the rehabilitation of schools). After the tsunami in December 2004 and the end of the civil war in May 2009, Switzerland also supported measures to rebuild 5,000 homes and village infrastructure and to demine the region. This humanitarian programme, involving a total financial commitment of CHF 80 million, will be concluded in April 2016.
In accordance with the Dispatch on International Cooperation 2017-20 adopted by the Federal Council, Sri Lanka will become a priority country of the FDFA’s Human Security Division.
In response to the civil war, Switzerland began its peacebuilding and human rights activities in Sri Lanka in 2001. Under the auspices of the FDFA’s Human Security Division, Switzerland is continuing its efforts in the areas of human rights policy and dealing with the past, and supports various confidence-building measures, such as the organisation of a meeting between representatives of the government, the opposition, Tamil and Muslim political parties, civil society, the diaspora community and several constitutional experts.
The SDC’s Global Programme Migration and Development began working in Sri Lanka in 2010, among other areas to protect the rights of migrant workers and to enhance the positive impact of labour migration. Lastly, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has been providing assistance for Sri Lankans returning to their country for many years and has supported a vocational training project in the north and east of the country, as well as other projects, since 2014. (Colombo Gazette)