Calmy-Rey outlines goals for Sri Lanka visit

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey will promote peace in a visit to Sri Lanka this week. Keystone Archive

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has begun a five-day visit to Sri Lanka where she is set to hold talks on the country’s stalled peace process.

This content was published on October 7, 2004 minutes

Negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and rebel Tamil Tigers have been at a standstill since April last year.

Calmy-Rey told swissinfo on Thursday that she aimed “to speak about the peace plan and about the current difficult situation.”

Meetings are planned with Sri Lanka's president, prime minister and foreign minister, along with representatives of the opposition and members of the civilian population.

“In the peace process, it is important to support people. A strong population is a sign of a functioning democracy,” she said.

She will also be attending a five-day conference of Swiss ambassadors to Asia, which will be 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 said.

“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.

Geneva meeting

The visit comes as a five-day meeting of European-based Tamils, which was held behind closed doors at a Lake Geneva hotel, drew to a close.

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,” 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.


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

In brief

Two years after a ceasefire between government and Tamil rebels, killings continue in Sri Lanka.

Micheline Calmy-Rey will be in Sri Lanka from October 8-12, and will meet 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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