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Swiss Embassy issues regretful note

Sri Lanka and Switzerland began the slow-dance back to normalising relations strained by the controversy surrounding the alleged abduction and intimidation of Visa Assistant Garnier Banister Francis by issuing a statement Monday, Dec 30.

The statement is part mea culpa part insistence on diplomatic norms from the Swiss side.

In a “diplomatic note” issued simultaneously by Colombo and Berne, the Swiss Embassy in Colombo said it “regrets that these developments have led to the Sri Lankan authorities’ commitment to due process being called into question and reaffirms that Switzerland, like Sri Lanka, is committed to upholding good governance and the rule of law.”

The statement also noted that “uncorroborated facts made it into the public domain, putting an unnecessary strain on the otherwise cordial relationship between the two countries. At no point during this time did Switzerland have the intention of tarnishing the image of the government of Sri Lanka.” 

This was a clear reference to the publication in the foreign press of a version of Francis’s story which she later changed. The story, which appeared in the New York Times, angered the Sri Lanka government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his December 16 Press Conference held with Editors and News Directors asked the question “how did this appear in the New York Times even before we were informed about it?” The government immediately took the view that this was aimed at tarnishing the image of the newly elected president.

The statement said that the Swiss Embassy “hopes for a swift return to an environment conducive to resuming the positive cooperation between Switzerland and Sri Lanka. Recognizing that local staff is subject to local laws, the Embassy is convinced that both sides will remain attentive to the working conditions and the wellbeing of all staff of diplomatic missions”

It also added that it is the responsibility of any government to protect the diplomatic missions of other states on its territory. 

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