Sri Lankan MPs and civil society visit the UK

A group of emerging political leaders from Sri Lanka’s Parliament and civil society have been spending the week here in the UK as part of a programme aimed at fostering reconciliation in that country’s progress toward peaceful development following the end of the three decade civil war there in 2009. Thus far the Sri Lankan MPs and their civil society counterparts, who represent a cross-section of political parties and ethnicities, have met a wide variety of their British parliamentary counterparts in a series of meetings held in the House of Commons. On Monday they were in the Commons meeting British parliamentarians on the same day that the Prime Minister was due to make his statement on the euro talks – that there were seven British MPs and one Peer prepared to take part on a day like that was a strong sign of the level of interest in working towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka among our UK parliamentarians. On Tuesday the delegation visited the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and were then hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, where they discussed the parallels between peacebuilding experiences in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka with Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and key architect of the process over the course of eight years as a Minister. In addition to all things parliamentary the delegation has also met groups from the British Sri Lankan diaspora, from across the ethnic spectrum. Unsurprisingly some of these conversations have been difficult and challenging, on both sides, but feedback from all who have taken part has been strongly positive and it is hoped that the dialogue continues. One woman told the MPs that this was the first time she had ever met a Member of Parliament from the country, and the fact that they had come to see them was the strongest possible signal of a willingness to engage. Supported throughout by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office the delegation will tomorrow be meeting Minister of State Alistair Burt, who has responsibility for South Asia, before dining at a reception at the Sri Lankan High Commission on their final day. The visit has been characterised by a hectic schedule, information-rich exchanges and sometimes challenging dialogue. But it has also been marked throughout by a real willingness among the Sri Lankan delegation and those they have met to hold what have been at times difficult conversations in a search for shared ground. That they have found much to unite and work on in future is very encouraging indeed.