As part of USAID and Common Grounds, a delegation from Columbia comprising of eleven membersvisited Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation on 21.11.2017 to draw knowledge, expertise and experiences on reconciliation and integration efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka. Mr. V. Sivagnanasothy, Secretary, Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation presented the national reconciliation and integration strategy of Sri Lanka which included Integration Friendly Schools Programme, Reconciliation Friendly Media, Integration Friendly University and Youth Corps, inculcating integration concepts into Sunday Religious School teaching, curriculum development in school education incorporating ethics, values, virtues, and comparative religious studies.
Further, the Reconciliation Focused Economic Empowerment Project (REEP), 50,000 Housing programme, Roads project, Social and Economic Infrastructure projects which will help to reduce economic disparities and enhance trust. The Ministry Secretary, V. Sivagnanasothy also stated that the District Reconciliation Committees (DRC) has been established with His Excellency the President’s guidance to address ethnic and religious tensions in hotspots.
Considerable progress has now been made in operationalization of OMP which comes under the purview of the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation. The delegation echoed approval and commendation on the projects and applauded the holistic approach adopted by Sri Lanka in working towards sustainable peace. Andres Guevara an Editor from a Columbian Magazine commended the reconciliation friendly media programmes in place in Sri Lanka and launched a discussion with regards to the medias role in sustainable peace . The Discussion noted that ‘It’s not about censoring or controlling free media but rather fostering an alternative message to limit the spreading of tensions and animosity among the masses ‘.
The issue of fake news came to light thus further strengthening the need for the reconciliation friendly media programmes and awareness initiatives to establish a more harmonious nation. Laura Ochoa, the international representative of ‘Search for Common Ground’ added and shared the experiences of Colombian reconciliation projects in place. She explained that the conflict affected areas need to be provided with basic economic and social infrastructure including resettlement and rehabilitation, livelihood and economic empowerment to address disparities and need reparation support. It was noted that the “The priority is also to provide physical rehabilitation for the disabled persons and extend psycho-social support to the affected persons including families of missing persons to overcome trauma.
Further, sustainable social reintegration of ex-combatants into communities and providing economic opportunities to prevent future recurrences is vital.’’ Secretary of Peace in Cali, Rocio, and the other delegates reiterated their commendation on the peace education programme for children have tremendous potential for success in terms of establishing sustainable peace. Those who were in attendance agreed that the importance of the involvement and empowerment of the youth and further shared the various projects in place that get the youth engaged in shaping future of Sri Lanka . The Columbian Peace Agreement was brought up and its strengths and weaknesses were discussed . The meeting was attended byboth the international and local representatives of Search for Common Ground Ms Laura Ochoa and Dayani Panagoda . Also in attendance was Rocio Guitterrez Secetary of Peace, Maria Jose, Estefonia Guesta, Fady Villegas, Milena Peralta, Edna Katalina and Favea Harquez who represented various other prominent peace agencies and governmental institutions from Columbia.