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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2642

US Administration and Congress get Half Truths about Sri Lanka

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Analysis

Washington, D.C. 07 July (Asiantribune.com): “Washington is a difficult terrain to operate in. Your message has to be clear and crisp and precise to break through. You have to show creativity. You have to know your audience. You have to tailor your message to this audience. You have to have a multi-prong strategy that includes hard-core issues and soft issues,” was what Tshepo Mazibuko, public diplomacy counselor at the South African Embassy told Washington Diplomat carried in its April 2007 issue.

John Show in its Diplomacy column in Washington Diplomat says: Experts say that embassies should develop and implement a careful, coherent and patient strategy to get their messages out. Especially in this raucous time, they should approach their work as a kind of exercise in gardening, preparing the soil for an eventual flowering. Analysts agree that as part of this gardening, embassies must understand the terrain in which they are operating.

This terrain is important to a small South Asian country like Sri Lanka which is often misunderstood by the “audience” that have influence in that terrain; and that terrain mainly lies in the portals of the United States Congress and the State Department that can influence the White House, and of course leading media personnel who have access to all three.

Now, one segment of that audience, the Congress, has gone to the Bush White House about the Sri Lankan crisis with half truths. And, possibly Stephen Hadley, the president’s national security advisor despite he lent a hearing to Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Bogallagama a couple of months ago, is prone to believe the fifty congressmen who addressed a letter to the president to draw a renewed attention to what’s going on in this South Asian nation Sri Lanka which is facing the worst terrorist situation often interpreted as ethnic problem for the international community’s consumption.

What are the half truths in this letter dispatched to the White House? (1) “Since December 2005, as you know, renewed hostilities between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have caused….” (2) There is a pressing need for a more concerted effort by the international community to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.”

“Asian Tribune’ is at loss to understand that the signatories to the letter to President Bush were unaware that the Government of Sri Lanka was patiently in a non-combative position when the Tamil Tigers unleashed its offensive against the military, civilians and economic targets less than a month after a new president was inaugurated in November 2005, and that the Rajapaksa administration militarily responded only after the Tamil Tiger suicide squad attempted to assassinate its army commander in April 2006 in the country’s capital city of Colombo.

“To bring both sides back to the negotiating table” clearly indicates that the Congressmen were not fully aware of the ground situation in Sri Lanka and that they have communicated half truths to Bush White House. The ‘mindset’ of the U.S. lawmakers has been conditioned to believe that (1) the LTTE, though use terrorist tactics and despite it being designated in the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in fact represents the entire ethnic minority Tamils (12%) in Sri Lanka (2) that this ethnic minority Tamils are domiciled in the north and east of the country (3) therefore granting a ‘homeland’ in the north-east provinces, which in the belief of the American lawmakers and the State Department officials is predominantly Tamil, is most reasonable devolution package to solve the Tamil National Question in Sri Lanka.

Despite the Presidential Secretariat in Sri Lanka has a seventy-member inter-ministerial committee in charge of shaping the nation’s overseas image, it is appropriate to remind this ‘most inactive’ committee what former U.S. president Bill Clinton said: Clinton once told one of his closest acquaintances Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at Yale’s School of Management that “when your critics are wrong, fire back on all cylinders. Take it on with full force and don’t let up.”

As much as the congressmen told half truth to Bush White House, Sri Lanka is equally responsible for letting the American lawmakers to misrepresent the Sri Lankan situation in the well of the House and the Senate and now at the highest level of the U.S. administration possibly with the concurrence of State Department officials who feed them with such half truths.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or popularly known as Tamil Tigers have been militarily fighting the Sri Lankan state on Sri Lankan soil and were engaged in a vigorous and effective public diplomacy campaign outside the Sri Lankan soil mostly in western nations since early eighties to win a separate ethnic Tamil independent nation carved out from the combined north and east of the country accusing the ‘Sinhalese dominated’ Sri Lankan state of discriminating against the minority Tamils. Successive Sri Lankan governments dismissed the separatist claim of the Tamil Tigers but, under international pressure, held several talks with them to develop a political package aimed at devolving administrative and political power to the periphery. The Tigers, on several occasions, abandoned talks in favor of a military campaign to win a separate state rejecting the most progressive devolution package in 2000.

The ‘Asian Tribune’ in an account carried on 06 November 2006 under the caption “Sri Lanka’s Human, Minority Rights and National Question will have closer scrutiny in Democratic-Controlled US Congress” gave a detailed analysis of the key Senators and House members, because of their far-left liberal leanings, who are likely to put the terrorist threat Sri Lanka is facing in the back burner and bring more emphasis on human rights situation.

In that column this writer cautioned: “The question here is when Tamil Tiger professionals had audiences with these liberal congressmen and through them their voice heard in some of these (congressional) committees at ease while Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry even did not know whether they were in existence, one wonders the ‘seasoned’ diplomats of this South Asian nation will ever be able to present their side of the story such as the myth of a traditional Tamil homeland concept that has already crept in to another batch of liberals, the U.S. Foreign Service cadre.”

Getting back to what the South African diplomat said: “Washington is a difficult terrain to operate in. Your message has to be clear and crisp and precise to break through. You have to know your audience. You have to tailor your message to this audience.”

If Sri Lanka understands the terrain then the audience is not very difficult to identify; Congressman William D. Delahunt, Chairman, Subcommittee on International Organizations and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said on the floor of the House last May 2 that the United States currently has no moral authority to advocate human rights worldwide when it is blatantly violating the same standards they expect of other nations. If Tom Lantos the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee is too high in the Congressional hierarchy for Sri Lanka to tap, then Delahunt needs to be told that what they hear are half truths.

When 350-odd Tamils who could not give reasonable explanations as to their stay in Colombo ‘lodges’ were transported to their home towns in the north, to Congressmen Frank Pallone and Jerry Weller, the signatories to the letter dispatched to President Bush, it was ethnic cleansing and are totally unaware that 54% of the minority ethnic Tamils out of a 12% of total ethnic Tamil population in the country are domiciled in the majority-Sinhalese districts in the south and that approximately 40% of the population in the District of Colombo, the commercial and political capital of the nation, are minorities.

To Congressman Rush Holt who initiated the letter to White House has not been told that there are other Tamil and Muslim groups and movements that have stakes in the resolution of Sri Lanka’s National Question and that it is a half truth to inform the White House that “there is a pressing need for more concerted effort by the International Community to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.”

Circumstances have forced the leading American lawmakers and State Department officials to recognize that there are only two parties to this South Asian nation’s crisis, and failure of Sri Lanka to identify the ‘audience’ and the ‘terrain’ its overseas diplomatic missions operate have made it easier for Tamil Tiger professionals in the United States to offer cogent arguments that the LTTE stands for the aspirations of the Tamil people and the Government of Sri Lanka represents only the majority Sinhalese wishes.

How much diplomatic efforts the 70-member inter-ministerial committee appointed by Sri Lanka president to enhance the country’s image overseas has done to prevent such language being shaped into a letter dispatched by 50-odd US Congressmen to the White House to make it look that the Tamil Tigers are the sole representatives of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka?

Has Sri Lanka identified the LTTE front organizations in the United States and their professionals who are instrumental in conditioning the ‘mindset’ of the congressmen and State department officials, and if so have the Sri Lankan officials aware in what ‘terrain’ the Tiger professionals operate and to what ‘audience’ they are ‘tailoring the message’?

With what national organizations do these Tiger fronts work with, with what academic professionals are they in touch with to get some of the language into documents that are placed before the Senate and House committees, and now in correspondence to the White House?

One could identify the last minute diplomatic effort of certain Sri Lankan officials in the United States to at least draw the attention of the White House the importance of further disrupting Tamil Tiger financing in the letter to the White House.

Recognizing this small but vital effort on the part of certain Sri Lankan officials in the United States it may not be a difficult task for Sri Lanka to correctly identify the ‘terrain’ its overseas diplomatic missions work to forcefully and cogently put the ‘message’ across to help U.S. lawmakers and White House officials move away from half truths and get the correct picture that Sri Lanka’s terrorism and national issue are not the same but two distinct problems that need separate solutions.

‘Asian Tribune’ will now carry the full text of the Congressional letter that was address to President George W. Bush:

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President;

We are writing to once again urge you to increase U.S. efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict in Sri Lanka.

Since December 2005, as you know, renewed hostilities between the
Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have caused monumental suffering for Sri Lankan civilians, including widespread human rights abuses by both sides, over one thousand civilian deaths and disappearances, and displacement of an estimated 290,000 civilians. We condemn actions on both sides that have endangered and imperiled civilian populations.

There is a pressing need for a more concerted effort by the international community to bring both sides back to the negotiating table. While the international community has attempted to mediate the conflict in the past, a recent report by the International Crisis Group has described the international response to Sri Lanka's human rights problems as "disjointed, lackluster and tardy." The report, a copy of which is attached, recommends a series of actions the international community
should take to help resolve the conflict and stop the widespread abuse of human rights. The United States has the opportunity to serve as a leader of such a renewed international effort.

Several of us previously have urged you to increase U.S. diplomatic
engagement and high-level political contact in Sri Lanka to work toward achieving a lasting peace. We continue to believe that such a step is imperative. We also urge you to increase U.S. efforts to promote strong human rights protections for civilians, urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take active measures to end extrajudicial killings and disappearances in government-controlled areas, enhance Treasury Department efforts to disrupt LTTE financing, and work toward a strengthened mandate for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to engage in
human rights field monitoring.

We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Congressman DAVID PRICE

Congressman RUSH HOLT

Congressman GARY ACKERMAN

Congresswoman TAMMY BALDWIN

Congresswoman MADELEINE BORDALLO

Congressman G. K. BUTTERFIELD

Congressman LOIS CAPPS

Congressman MICHAEL CAPUANO

Congressman JOE COURTNEY

Congressman JOSEPH CROWLEY

Congressman ELIJAH CUMMINGS

Congressman DANNY K. DAVIS

Congresswoman ROSA DELAURO

Congressman BOB ETHERIDGE

Congressman CHAKA FATTAH

Congressman BARNEY FRANK

Congressman SCOTT GARRETT

Congressman CHARLES GONZALEZ

Congressman AL GREEN

Congressman RAÚL GRIJALVA

Congressman ALCEE HASTINGS

Congressman BRIAN HIGGINS

Congressman MAURICE HINCHEY

Congressman MICHAEL HONDA

Congressman DALE KILDEE

Congressman TOM LANTOS

Congresswoman BARBARA LEE

Congressman ZOE LOFGREN

Congresswoman NITA LOWEY

Congressman EDWARD MARKEY

Congresswoman BETTY MCCOLLUM

Congressman BRAD MILLER

Congresswoman GWEN MOORE

Congressman JAMES MORAN

Congressman FRANK PALLONE

Congressman DONALD PAYNE

Congressman JOSEPH PITTS

Congressman DAVID REICHERT

Congressman STEVEN ROTHMAN

Congressman DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER

Congresswoman JANICE SCHAKOWSKY

Congressman CHRISTOPHER SHAYS

Congressman BRAD SHERMAN

Congressman PORTNEY PETE STARK

Congresswoman BETTY SUTTON

Congressman PATRICK TIBERI

Congressman MELVIN WATT

Congressman JERRY WELLER

Congressman ROBERT WEXLER

Congressman DAVID WU

- Asian Tribune -

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