Switzerland has sent Jörg Frieden, an experienced diplomat who once served as ambassador to Sri Lanka, to explore possibilities for clarifying the security incident at the Swiss embassy in Colombo, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDAD) in Bern said yesterday.
Frieden’s visit followed a telephone conversation between Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena and his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis on Wednesday.
“Cassis emphasised that Switzerland was keen to clarify the incident together with the Sri Lankan authorities, which is why an experienced diplomat, former Ambassador Jörg Frieden, had been sent to Colombo. Frieden is expected to explore possible solutions in communication with the Sri Lankan authorities, and thus lend support to the Swiss embassy. This additional contact at the diplomatic level is also intended to strengthen the basis of trust between Switzerland and Sri Lanka,” the FDAD said in a press release yesterday.
Gunawardena had met with Swiss Ambassador to Sri Lanka Hanspeter Mock and Frieden yesterday, in order to maintain dialogue with a view to finding a solution. “The Swiss Ambassadors stressed that in the present case, the principle of the presumption of innocence applies, and that the health and safety of its embassy staff take priority,” the release said.
During Wednesday’s telephone conversation, Cassis emphasised that the FDFA considers the health and safety of its staff to be paramount, that it is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that these are protected in the further proceedings, and also outlined Switzerland’s position on the incident.
“The security incident has severely affected the health of the local staff member of the Swiss embassy in question. In its capacity as an employer, the FDFA prioritises the health and safety of all its staff. To this end, Cassis noted that the Sri Lankan authorities are responsible for ensuring that the health and safety of FDFA staff are protected, which includes the embassy employee involved in the current proceedings,” the press release said.
Cassis has also expressed his regret at the decision by the examining Magistrate to place the local employee concerned in pre-trial detention, where the conditions do not take into account her state of health in any way. He therefore asked Minister Gunawardena to transfer her to a more appropriate location, such as a hospital, on humanitarian grounds. Switzerland considers the Sri Lankan authorities to be responsible for the health and safety of all its embassy staff.
The press release added that Swiss Ambassador in Colombo Hanspeter Mock had met with the Attorney General on Tuesday, where he had said that in this high-profile case, Sri Lanka’s reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law was at stake.
During his telephone conversation with Gunawardena, Cassis also pointed out that the high level of media coverage, lack of privacy safeguards, and public condemnation in this case not only endangered Swiss embassy staff, but also eroded the trust and confidence required to jointly clarify the incident.
Switzerland wishes to maintain close relations with Sri Lanka, and support the country as it moves forward, it added.