Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on the ethnic conflict met here for the first time with the President on the chair.

In his remarks, Mr. Rajapaksa expressed the view that the current stability and the strong mandate received by the government in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections made it the right opportunity for taking necessary steps for fact finding and reconciliation.

The eight-member Commission will probe events from February 2002 to the military victory against the Tigers in May last year.

The time period and the jurisdiction of the Commission have evinced mixed response. Critics of the government are of the view that the time frame is politically motivated and the Commission does not have enough scope, particularly to investigate alleged human rights violations in the last phase of the war.

Since the end of the war, the government has been under pressure from several quarters within and outside to allow an independent committee or commission to investigate charges of alleged excesses both by the LTTE and the security forces towards the end of the 34-month-long-war.

The government has repeatedly rejected the calls for any outside enquiry on the ground that such an exercise would not be helpful in moving towards the phase of reconciliation and finding a political solution acceptable to all the stakeholders in the ethnic conflict.

The announcement on the constitution of the Commission came even as the government is engaged in a verbal duel with the United Nations over the decision of the world body's Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to appoint a panel of experts to advice him on matters related to Sri Lanka.

In his remarks to the Commission at the first meeting, Mr. Rajapaksa recalled that less than a month after the end of the conflict, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in his remarks at the interactive briefing of the UN Security Council had informed that “I have been advised to state that the government is in the process of initiating a domestic mechanism for fact finding and reconciliation.”

A statement issued by the President's Secretariat said here that the attention of the Commissioners was drawn to the vigorous programme of reconstruction and development as well as of the restoration of democracy, now being implemented in the conflict affected areas.

“At the same time, the almost three decade long situation of conflict and its widespread attendant violence would have caused great hurt to the people of Sri Lanka. The Commission has therefore, the President said, the responsibility of acting in a forward looking manner, through focus on restorative justice designed to further strengthen national amity. The President expressed his strong confidence that the Commissioners who have been selected on their integrity and eminence would utilize their wide ranging mandate to fulfill this objective, while always safeguarding the dignity of Sri Lanka," it said.

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