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Peace through dialogue, not war - President

From Manjula Fernando in New York

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga assured that the Government will continue to pursue a lasting solution to the ethnic strife but expressed that peace is more than the "simple absence of war."

"We have and we shall do all that is required of a democratic and responsible government to ensure that we do not return to armed conflict," President Kumaratunga said addressing a full house at the prestigious Asia Society headquarters at 725, Park Avenue on Monday.

"While we believe that peace has to be negotiated, we do not believe in peace at any cost. We believe that the sovereignty, the territorial integrity and security of the State must be safeguarded," she said adding that her Government believed in just peace that would serve all communities equally but the aspirations of a single group.

The President was the third speaker to address an on going series organised by the Asian Society featuring prominent Asian women.

Before her Sima Samar of Afghanistan and the nobel peace price winner Shirin Ebadi spoke.

Addressing the audience consisting mainly of Sri Lankan expatriates and Asian and American representatives from the media, academic and business community she explained her Government was of the view that a pluralist, democratic state was the need of the hour.

"The solution to the problem lies within an extensive form of devolution of power that involves a high level of democratic participation in decision making, law making and governance by the devolved units," she observed.

"We do not believe dismemberment of the Sri Lankan State would in any way be a solution to the Tamil problem,". She complimented the work of the Norwegian government saying that it has worked hard for over five years to assist the Government and that with considerable success.

She said the present two and half year old ceasefire was the longest to survive the 19 year old war. In response to a question by the media if the government was ready for a compromise with the LTTE to prevent the country being plunged back to war, President Kumaratunga responded that it had offered an extensive proposal for power sharing. Nevertheless, the LTTE had refused to sit and talk.

Child proscription had always been a problem in the North and East and even though it is not so severe after the ceasefire agreement, recruitment of child soldiers is still being done, President said in response to a question by a representative of Human Rights organisation.

Senior vice Chairman of Citigroup, New York Victor J. Menezes made the opening remarks.

The event was followed by a reception attended by the President of the Asia Society Vishakha Desai, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Mrs.Suganthie Kadirgamar, Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike, Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington Devinda Subasinghe, Acting Permanent Representative Bernard Goonetilleke and Deputy Permanent Representative Ranjith Uyangoda.

Earlier, she attended a closed door meeting of world leaders on 'fight against hunger and poverty' at the UN headquarters chaired by UN Secretary General Koffi Annan .

The meeting called by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was aimed at providing political incentive to the international efforts to fight against hunger and poverty.

International monetary organisations such as, the IMF, World Bank and country representatives from over 70 states, including 55 heads of State and governments attended the meeting that served as an event to showcase political will of the international community in identifying concrete and viable ways to acquire additional resources to finance development and effective action against hunger and poverty.

The Geneva declaration on Action Against hunger and poverty was launched on January 30 this year by Presidents of Brazil, France (Chirac and President of Chile (Lagos) with the support of the UN Secretary General Koffi Annan.

The Geneva Declaration created a quadripartite technical group, recently joined by spain, to study possible innovative mechanisms, for development finance, like taxation on certain international financial transactions and trading of weapons.

Britain has proposed for an international finance mechanism besides efforts to stimulate voluntary contributions from the private sector and individuals.

The final report of the working group announced in July 2004 was the main input for yesterday's meeting.

Kapruka

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