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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

US State Department ‘Misreading’ of Sri Lanka and July 2008 Congressional Resolution Match Well

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune – An Analysis

Washington, DC. 21 July,( English novelist Kingsley Amis once famously said ‘If you can’t annoy somebody there’s little point in writing’ and, in discussing the Sherman-Pallone-Weller sponsored July 10, 2008 resolution on Sri Lanka in the US House of Representatives it is not a political expedition to bring into surface what State Department assistant secretary Even Feigenboun, who recently visited Colombo, ‘understood’ of the situation in Sri Lanka, and to highlight the importance of how the LTTE lobbying and funds have helped to stabilize ‘pro-Tamil Tiger psychology’ in the minds of the leading US Congressmen.

The resolution called the GSL to halt its military offensive in favor of a political solution; encouraged the GSL and Tamil Tigers to resume dialogue; critical of the GSL’s unilateral abrogation of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) after five years giving the impression to the US Congress that peace prevailed during the operation of the CFA; projecting Sri Lanka as a Banana Republic; insinuating that the GSL is starving the Tamil people in the north; concealed the fact that after 25 years of the ‘Black July’ 54% of the ethnic minority Tamils are far away from Prabhakaran’s ‘Vanni Regime’ freely deciding to live in ethnic-majority Sinhalese districts outside north-east provinces; continued to publicize the canard that there is a civil war or ‘free-for-all’ between Sinhalese and Tamils; engaged in pulling a blindfold over the eyes of the rest of the Members of the US Congress in concealing as to who fired the first shot since Mr. Rajapaksa took office as president in December 2005; and that the GSL is militarily fighting the ethnic Tamil minority insinuating that the LTTE is after all the Voice of the Tamils and that the international community should intervene to restore law and order, democracy and rule of law totally side stepping the immediate issue that Sri Lanka is battling the most ruthless terrorist group to ensure national security and safeguard her territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The sentiments expressed by Sherman-Pallone-Weller resolution now referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee can be connected to the ‘understanding’ US State Department’s South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary Evan Feigenboun had during his official visit to Colombo in the first week of July in which he avoided the issue of the alienation of LTTE in the current political process while stopped short but indicated in telling that the LTTE represents the sentiments of the ethnic minority Tamils (12%) in Sri Lanka.

Feigenboun exhibits US State Department ‘Mindset’

The Congress ‘Resolution’ and the ‘Understanding’ of the mid-level State Department official are vital to the Colombo regime, its diplomatic outlet in Washington and to the LTTE lobby in the West especially in the United States when the issue of taking the terrorist outfit out of the US Foreign Terrorist Organization List emerges in frequent intervals these days.

To a simple and very straightforward question asked by Sri Lanka newspaper Daily Mirror from the visiting deputy assistance secretary Feigenboun the mindset of the US State Department was clearly displayed: (1) That the total annihilation of the LTTE amounts to the failure of the Tamil minority achieving their rightful place in the Sri Lankan polity and, (2) that the LTTE, despite its terrorist activities which led the US to designate it as an FTO, represents the aspirations and grievances of the 12% ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Feigenboun’s assessment matches well with what a 40-page report on Sri Lanka prepared by the Congressional Research Service released January 22, 2008 said: “President Rajapaksa has been faulted by many for his apparent belief that the LTTE is the chief source of the country’s ethnic strife and that only their military defeat would open the space in which to effectively address Tamil grievances. Rather, many analysts contend, the Tigers are only one manifest aspect of a greater ethnic problem”.

And, here’s what Dr. Feigenboun told the Daily Mirror:

Question: You do not see this alienation of the LTTE? Do you see, instead, a process where the LTTE is just seen as the enemy that needs to be crushed, and that is the end, and they have no place at the table?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: No, there is a history of negotiations. I’m not in a position to get inside the heads of the LTTE; I wouldn’t want to speak for the LTTE nor would I want to psychoanalyze the LTTE.

The problem, as I said, is fundamental. You need to build bridges across and among communities. There’s a sense of alienation among a lot of people here. There’s also a sense of fear, and it is very palpable when you talk to people of various communities. Without psychoanalyzing what particular groups think, I do think we can say there is a sense of alienation from the political process by various people in various communities. So when we say “political solution,” we mean a process in which people are prepared to come back and work for the elements of a compromise that might give people an investment in the future, devolve power to communities, and give, in particular, the Tamil community a sense of investment in this country’s future. (End Quote)

Dr. Feigenbaum’s reply is no second to the misrepresentation of the Sri Lankan situation in the Congressional Resolution. If he knows the ‘history of negotiations’ he is not in a position to forget what he read in his briefing papers when he took up this position in July 2006 that it was the LTTE unilaterally withdrew from all negotiations and that during the period they were engaged in negotiations they were militarily building their attack capabilities while smuggling heavy military equipment and were militarily in a superior position to out maneuver the SLG military each time they withdrew from talks.

Dr. Feigenbaum does not need to ‘psychoanalyze’ the LTTE but he brings, in the interview, the State Department ‘mindset’ that the LTTE should not be ‘crushed’ saying “I do think we can say there is a sense of alienation from the political process by various people in various communities.” The ‘mindset’ of the State Department officials is brought to the surface, intentionally or unintentionally, using the issue of ‘Tamil alienation’ side stepping the ‘crushing’ of the LTTE. In other words, if you alienate (crush) the LTTE it amounts to alienation of the Tamil people.

On the question of U.S. Government interest in getting the LTTE involved in future political talks the State Department official again avoided keeping the options open. The insinuation is that the LTTE is a force that cannot be ignored and that such a force goes parallel with a political solution. Here is how that dialogue went:

Question: Is the U.S. Government concerned that there is a delay in engaging the LTTE in a political process at present?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Feigenbaum: Let’s go back to what I said is the fundamental challenge. I think the elements of a political solution are well known. The challenge is to try to get the elements of a political solution out onto the table. That would provide a basis for the resumption of negotiations. That would provide a basis for the resumption of discussions.

It needs to be something that gives the Tamil community a sense of refuge. My message here has been, in part, that we are watching the situation closely. We think, ultimately, whatever is happening on the military front, there needs to be a political solution, there needs to be a political process. Discussion of things like the 13th Amendment, like the APRC, the different elements that have been there a long time – there may be new ideas as well as old ideas – those are the things that would facilitate a return to negotiation among communities.

A lot of what I tried to do here was to encourage the government and others to think hard about the elements of what a political solution might involve. For that matter, I met principally with government people but I also had an opportunity to talk with some others here. I met with the Tamil National Alliance, and I also met with the UNP leaders. This is a message that is not just directed at the government; it’s a generic message that we direct at all communities of Sri Lanka, and obviously that is a particular responsibility. That’s really a challenge that we have going forward. (End Quote)

Dr. Feigenbaum and his clan in the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau in the US State Department strongly believe that the LTTE and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka are inseparable.

Despite the Tamil Tigers are getting militarily weaker domestically due to the military advances into Prabhakaran’s heartland, it is in a stronger position internationally due to its heavy lobbying in the West especially the untiring efforts of its front organization in penetrating into the political camps of US lawmakers.

The most successful political strategist in recent US political scene Karl Rove who made George W. Bush the Governor of Texas and won him the American presidency twice had a theory which was remarkably worked at all times. He said if you want to destabilize or defeat your adversary never endeavor to waste energy to combat his weaknesses. Identify his strengths and work your way through to deny the adversary that vital strength. The strength the LTTE has is its international appeal and its amazing access to policy makers or those who influence policy makers, and most importantly the strategy it uses in public diplomacy.

The LTTE over the years strategically worked hard to build this strength among the international community and it has become an unmatched strength while Sri Lanka is still struggling how to match that strength or internationally undermine it.

The Sherman-Pallone-Weller Resolution is the culmination of the LTTE’s most recent public diplomacy victory.

The Resolution and credentials of Sponsors

In an official letter dated 1 September 2000 under his signature US Congressman Brad Sherman wrote to then US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright advocating US intervention to award a confederation or a separate state to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Following is the full text of that letter:

(Begin Text) The United States has an opportunity make Sri Lanka a model and help it to evolve, by negotiating, two autonomous democratic political structures within a system acceptable to both parties, where ethnic communities can coexist peacefully on the Island. The US should be firm in its message to the government and the opposition, that if negotiations are not forthcoming immediately, they should be prepared to conduct a referendum of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

This can be done with the assistance of the United Nations similar to the referendum in East Timor. Thus, in the absence of a negotiated settlement, the Tamil people could determine whether they want a confederation or a separate state as endorsed by the Tamil people in the last democratic elections held in 1977 in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

Again, I thank you for your past efforts and urge the Administration to work along these lines to deliver a peaceful solution that all the peoples of Sri Lanka can accept. (End Text)

On 03 July 2007, Congressmen Sherman-Pallone- Weller trio with several other US lawmakers sent a letter to the Bush administration to intervene in the Sri Lankan crisis. Following is a part of the letter sent to the White House.

(Begin Text) 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. (End Text)

As was distorted in the 10 July 2008 Resolution, the Congressmen misrepresented Sri Lanka situation saying that renewed hostilities between the LTTE and the GSL commenced in December 2005 the month Mahinda Rajapaksa was inaugurated as the new Executive President. In fact, the truth was that Tamil Tigers commenced its military offensive in December 2005 despite the president’s call for fresh talks. The LTTE offensive continued but GSL forces acted in extreme caution and restraint with no counter-offensive until in April 2006 when the LTTE made an attempt on the life of the Army Commander and attempted to prevent the flow of water to the farmers in the east. These were the two incidents that the GSL military forces had to act to thwart the attempts of the Tamil Tigers.

One could clearly see how Brad Sherman has become a standard bearer of the ‘Tiger Flag’ in the United States Congress when he participated in a testimony conducted by the Asia and Pacific Sub Committee in March 2006.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald A. Camp on 15 March 2006 drew the attention of the US Congressional Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific, to a report by the US Human Rights Watch titled Funding the ‘final war’ LTTE intimidation and extortion in the Tamil Diaspora, which had detailed the manner in which the LTTE was receiving funds from the Tamil Diaspora.

Emphasizing the role Tamil Diaspora funding played in sustaining the conflict in Sri Lanka, Camp said “their fundraising in the US, was forbidden by law in terms of the proscription against the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)”.

The hearing titled “Unrest in South Asia: Recent Developments in Nepal and Sri Lanka” was held at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. It was chaired by Congressman James A. Leach, of the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific, of the US House Committee on International Relations and attended by Congressman Brad Sherman.

In the Question and Answer session that followed, questioned by Congressman Brad Sherman whether there was a ‘road map’ that could be provided, as to what the LTTE should be doing to get off the terrorist list. Mr. Camp said the LTTE was put on that list as they committed terrorist offences. He said the US Government supported the legitimate Government of Sri Lanka and regard the LTTE as a terrorist organization. “If they were to renounce terrorism and stop carrying out such activities, then we could reconsider the proscription. They have not given us any reason to be hopeful about their motives so far,” Mr. Camp said.

Responding to a follow up by Congressman Sherman as to what the difference was between terrorism and liberation war, and whether there wasn’t a difference between the Al Qaida and George Washington, Mr. Camp said, the last time he looked it up, George Washington did not go and attack a building full of civilians. “The LTTE is infamous for their terrorist bombings”, he added.

Responding to a question by Congressman Sherman as to “where Sri Lanka is headed”, Mr. Camp said he “was a little more optimistic”. After three years, the LTTE and the Government have sat down to talk. The Government in Sri Lanka is committed to a peaceful settlement. He said he was not in a position to verify whether the Sri Lankan Government was supporting militant groups against the LTTE, but that recently in Geneva, the Sri Lanka Government agreed to ensure that there are no attacks on the LTTE by other armed groups.

Joined by Brad Sherman the other two notable Sri Lanka critics of the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka, Frank Pallone and Jerry Weller jointly submitted a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 25, 2007 expressing the sentiments which can be identified with that of the LTTE.

While recognizing the terrorist campaign unleashed by the Tamil Tigers and U.S. longstanding relations with this South Asian nation, the main foundation of the resolution is that Sri Lanka is totally engulfed in an ethnic war, a reference to an ongoing ‘free for all’ between Sinhalese Buddhists and Hindu Tamils.

The Pallone/Weller resolution in saying “Whereas the Liberation of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting the Government of Sri Lanka since the 1970s for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east for minority Tamils” legitimizes the Tamil Tiger military offensive when expressing “Whereas thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed and more continue to die in Sri Lanka as a result of the ethnic conflict between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka”

The underpinning of a 40-page Congressional report released 22 January 2008 is its emphasis that Sri Lanka is engulfed in an ethnic war, there is a civil war between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist and minority Hindu Tamils and that the ‘Sinhalese-dominated’ Sri Lanka government continues with its Sinhalese supremacy policies moving the readers attention away from the ongoing inevitable military battle against the separatist/terrorist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) to protect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the democratic system.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued this report titled Sri Lanka: Background and U.S. Relationson January 22, 2008 by its South Asian Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Defense Division.

The report opines in one place: “President Rajapaksa has been faulted by many for his apparent belief that the LTTE is the chief source of the country’s ethnic strife and that only their military defeat would open the space in which to effectively address Tamil grievances. Rather, many analysts contend, the Tigers are only one manifest aspect of a greater ethnic problem”.

These are the conclusions based on frequently prepared reports by the American Embassy in Colombo for the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau of the US State Department that have gone into the thinking of the Congressmen Sherman-Pallone-Weller trio, and pro-LTTE professionals in the West are largely or totally responsible for the creation of the ‘mindset’ of American policymakers or those who influence the policymakers.

Despite Tamil Tigers are militarily being weakened within Sri Lanka the campaign by influential US Congressmen from time to time and the lifeline offered by US State Department officials to the Tigers because of a ‘mindset’ that has been developed over the years detrimental to the national interest of Sri Lanka have contributed to the unchallenged strength of the LTTE in the international arena. That strength has eventually, through the ‘behavior’ of the US Congressmen and the ‘attitude’ of the officials of the US State Department, maintained the LTTE as an inseparable force of the 12% ethnic Tamil population. This developed scenario has helped the LTTE to enter the orbit of the US Congressmen and officials of the US State Department not as ‘terrorists’ but as ‘liberation fighters’, and whenever US Congressmen or State Department officials enter into dialogue with Sri Lankan officials they work within this ‘mindset’ to see that the issue of ‘crushing’ the LTTE does not arise.

How did the LTTE achieve this ‘international strength’?

The Money Factor as Tool of Influence

Asian Tribune takes the liberty to quote from an investigative report prepared by a California-based Sri Lankan expatriate Hassina Leelarathna, publisher and executive editor of Sri Lanka Express, carried in one of Sri Lanka’s premier newspaper The Island in February 2008.

Under the title ‘US Lawmakers with ties to LTTE money’ the investigative reports gave details of how Congressmen Brad Sherman, Rush Holt received thousands in campaign funds from Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) a front of the LTTE proscribed by the US Treasury Department couple of months ago after extensive Inland Revenue Department and FBI investigations.

(Begin Text)The US Treasury Department’s recent clampdown on the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) accusing it of raising funds on behalf of a designated terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), throws the spotlight once again on the shadowy ‘LTTE lobby’ whose access to powerful US lawmakers helped to legitimize this and other Tiger fronts allowing them to operate with no road bumps for almost a decade. A close look into this nexus brings up the possibilities of ethics violations, if not more serious wrongdoing. Our investigation shows that TRO operatives and individuals whose addresses or phone numbers are linked to the TRO regularly made contributions to the campaign funds of the very legislators who have actively promoted the separatist cause and been harshly critical of Sri Lanka’s war on the Tigers, pointing, in turn, to the startling realization that not only did some US politicians help legitimize a terror group’s cause and operations but they also may have benefited financially from it.

High on the list are representatives Brad Sherman, (D-CA-27), Rush Holt (D –NJ-12), Danny Davis (D-IL-7), and David Price (D-NC-4) -- all names familiar to Sri Lankans as being ‘pro-Eelam’, if not ‘pro-LTTE.’ For sheer audacity, though, it is Congressman Sherman, who stands out most since he is not only a member of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee but he also holds a position no less than chairman of the congressional body tasked with managing and coordinating the United States’ efforts to combat terrorism – the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Human Rights.

The ‘symbiotic’ relationship between Sherman and the TRO may be traced back to 1999 when he was the chief guest at the opening fundraiser of the TRO office located at 18352 Keswick Street, Unit 10, Reseda, California, in the San Fernando Valley. Several prominent doctors and other Sri Lankan Tamils known for pro-separatist activism were present at the crowded event. Just a few weeks after that, on June 24, 1999, a contribution of $ 300 to the Sherman for Congress Fund was made under the name of Mr. Kandiah Perinpanathan from this same TRO office address. The contributions have been continuing until recently:

Total contributions made from the TRO office address in Reseda to the Sherman for Congress Fund since 1999: $ 4,650. (1999 thru January 2007)

Coincidentally,’ a few weeks after the TRO office opened, two more Tamil donations were made to the Sherman Fund, all on the same date – June 24, 1999. One donation was from a physician in Northridge who made a contribution of $500. The other was a donation of $ 750 by a well-known pro-Eelamist doctor from Lancaster who was among the participants at that TRO event the congressman attended.

Other contributions known to have been made by Sri Lankan Tamils to the Sherman campaign fund in the past nine years are about $ 10,000, counting only those funds of $250 or more. (End Text)

Ms. Leelarathna’s investigative account further notes:

(Begin Text) Congressman Rush Holt, who has clearly put his mouth where LTTE money is. For several years, Holt has been receiving campaign funds from Ranjan Ramanathan, a man identified as the TRO’s New Jersey state coordinator. The 56-year old Ramanathan an organizer of the 2006 ‘LTTE Heroes Day,’ where the Tamil Tiger flag was raised and LTTE combatants and suicide bombers eulogized, is no stranger among Democrats. His name was in the news recently when it was revealed that he was an approved solicitor of funds for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. The Clinton campaign quickly took his name off its website after questions were raised as to whether the Tigers had infiltrated her campaign. But, Ramanathan’s relationship with Holt is well-cemented with his known contributions to Holt’s campaign since 2003, paid out several times during each year, totaling $8114.

And the contributions have not gone unacknowledged. On July 23, 2007, when US Tamils held a ‘peace rally’, where they issued a proclamation that ‘Eelam Tamils constitute a nation,’ blasted the Sri Lankan government, and collected signatures to cut US military aid to Sri Lanka, one of Holt’s senior aides was on hand to lend moral support. "Chris Gaston, Senior Aide to Congressman Rush Holt came to the rally and met with the contingent that attended the rally from the Congressman’s home state of New Jersey," a press release by the organizers said.

Holt has definitely been a significant player in the LTTE strategy of attacking the Sri Lankan government for human rights violations and calling for international intervention in the country’s internal matters. He has actively touted the ‘Tamil homeland’ concept in addition to lobbying for a US ‘special envoy’ to Sri Lanka. In February 2007, Diaspora Tamils signed an online petition thanking Holt for his initiatives, particularly, for calling for a special high-level US envoy to oversee Sri Lankan affairs. "I wish to convey to you that you and your colleagues have won the hearts of the Tamils living all over the US and all over the continent of Europe," the thank-you letter signed by over 300 Tamils said.

Holt’s most recent effort on behalf of the Eelam lobby was a letter to President Bush, co-authored with Congressman Price, in July of 2007. Signed by forty legislators, including Sherman and Davis, it called for the enhancement of the UN presence in Sri Lanka and increased US pressure on the Sri Lankan government to ‘take active measures to end extrajudicial killings and disappearances.’ Almost as a postscript, the authors threw in a call to the Treasury Department to ‘enhance efforts to disrupt LTTE financing.’ (End Text)

This then is how circumstances developed over the years that led to the strengthening of Sri Lanka’s separatist/terrorist LTTE in the international arena. Terrorism in Sri Lanka is unconnected to America’s overall War on Terrorism. Despite the US federal authorities have taken firm steps to curb the arms and fund flow to the LTTE, which Sri Lankan authorities have acknowledged as a positive step to destabilize the Tiger outfit domestically, the policy planks of the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau of the US State Department in dealing with Tiger terrorism have undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts in the future to safeguard her territorial integrity and sovereignty while endeavoring to strike a delicate balance between national security and individual rights. Several leading members of the US Congress have contributed to keeping the Tiger Outfit well alive in Sri Lanka’s political atmosphere not allowing Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation to separate terrorism from rights and grievances of ethnic minority Tamils jeopardizing the progress of other nationalities in this South Asian nation.

- Asian Tribune -

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