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SARID, November 28, 2006

Reforms based on India’s Panchayat Raj System in the past two decades had devolved powers effectively to local communities, said Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse, inaugurating the first Asian Mayors’ conference, organized by the All India Council of Mayors at Dehra Dun in India on Sunday.

Sri Lanka is studying the Indian experience to develop its own model of maximum devolution within a unitary state as a solution to the civil war that has been ravaging the Island for over 20 years.

Mr. Rajapaksa underlined the urgent need for linking the traditional local governance systems with the country's central system of administration so that Centrally-sponsored development schemes reached the remotest villages and towns.

He said that many towns were now multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural in character. The challenge was to craft an inclusive approach that enabled these diverse groups to join together to evolve a consensus on vital issues faced by their towns.

He added that the Sri Lankan government had been following a similar approach for the past year with regard to both urban and national problems. Without directly referring to Sri Lanka's conflict, he stated, "We have a memorandum of understanding between the government and the main opposition to work towards a consensus on the solution to our ethnic problem."

He asked the Mayors to be patient, saying that progress would be slow as the wound could not be healed in a day.

Mr. Rajapaksa also stated that the 21st century would witness the transformation of the largely rural economy of Asia to an urban one. He added that this century belonged to South Asia and called for a consensual approach to deal with trans-national problems.




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