Speaking at a function to mark Sri Lanka’s 62nd Independence Day, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday said he would use the fresh mandate given to him by the people in the January 26 presidential election to re- establish all that was lost for the past 30 years due to the war.

The Independence Day celebrations this year were held in the hill town of Kandy near the area of Dalada Maligawa Buddhist temple. Military parades by 2,000 security forces personnel and cultural pageants presented by 1,200 artistes were the highlights of the occasion.

“Our country which fell back in progress because of the war needs to be advanced swiftly. Peace alone is not enough. An efficient, advanced nation needs to be built to replace a country which is lazy, lethargic and lacks energy. It is meaningless to blame our nation for its inefficiency whilst referring to the efficiency and progress of other countries. We proved at the recent overwhelming victory that our people could overtake them,” he told the gathering.

Mr. Rajapaksa said freedom is a responsibility and the people of this country have entrusted him with that responsibility and that he would fulfill that trust placed upon him.

“I have succeeded in uniting the territory. Now, I am entrusted with the task of uniting the hearts of all sections of our people. I willingly take over the noble task of creating peace among our communities.”

The re-elected President, whose second term in office begins in November, told the people, the diplomatic core and senior military and civil officials from the island nation that it is time the benefits of unifying the nation begin to show results.

Sri Lanka, a sought after tourist destination

“Now that the war has ended, the nation is saving more than the cost of the war. International research magazines recently reported that Sri Lanka is among the 31 countries in the list of best tourist destinations. Sri Lanka is second only to China among Asia’s fastest growing economies. Sri Lanka is also listed among the best countries for investment. We cordially invite investors here.”

Mr. Rajapaksa, while assuring to protect the honest and skilled people working for the betterment of the country, maintained that the country cannot be developed with harassment, gross punishments or by the gun. “Discipline is not revenge. The nation can only be built through commitment, discipline and elimination of corruption.”

He assured to initiate measures to enable the people who have left the country to return and also talked about the need to remove the bureaucratic hurdles on the path to economic development.

No divisive politics

In his brief comments in Tamil Mr. Rajapaksa said the people of the North and East suffered for thirty years without their democratic rights and he was able to grant them democracy. “We do not strengthen the parties based on divisive politics, on the basis of colour or tribe, pro- LTTE or separatist.”

“Anyone can go anywhere freely. That is very important. This is our motherland. All of us are children of one mother. All of us are kings today. We all should live together as brothers with equal rights and with dignity. Let us discuss our issues among ourselves and resolve them. Everyone will receive all facilities in an equal manner. That is called equality and equal rights. One country, one people, one law. That is our way, the only way.”

Foreign policy independent and non-aligned

On the foreign policy of his government, Mr. Rajapaksa said it is independent and non-aligned. “It is no secret that we have maintained close friendly relationships with our neighbours such as India, China, Japan and others. We also maintain close affinity with Africa, the West, the Middle East and the European countries.”

Mr. Rajapaksa said the new and even stronger mandate he received on January 26 gives him greater confidence to move ahead in building the new Sri Lanka, which he envisages as the hub of economic activity and a beacon of progress in the region together with a full commitment to the rights of man.

Separately, Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara in a special announcement said all Army deserters will be given a general amnesty to coincide with the Independence Day and urged them to report to the nearest Army Camp tomorrow.

However, he added that a track down of the deserters who failed to make use of the period of amnesty and return to the camps, would be initiated a day after.

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