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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2423

American Ambassador Blake admits Sri Lanka’s 'East' was 'Liberated': But highlights LTTE agenda items

Daya Gamage – Political Analyses from US Bureau Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 13 December (Asiantribune.com): The American Ambassador in Sri Lanka Robert Blake who used the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo as a platform on December 11 to give a ‘lecture’ to the Government of Sri Lanka was with full of contradictions. He reiterates the importance of a political solution and upholding human rights as a prerequisite for marginalizing the Tamil Tigers but in the same breath he acknowledges that the East was liberated from the Tigers enabling the U.S. to get involved in the province’s economic development.

Mr. Blake forgets for a moment that the ‘military solution’ preceded the 'liberation' of the east.

He talks about giving US economic assistance to Sri Lanka during the years of conflict but US Congressional budget statistics, which the Asian Tribune presented a many an occasion, reveal that it was during the heightened conflict period since mid-2006 that the United States drastically cut or reduced assistance.

Nowhere there has been any mention that Sri Lanka is the paragon of virtue on human rights, and many analysts of the Sri Lanka’s situation in recent times have noted that her government endeavors to strike a delicate balance between national security and civil rights under enormous international pressure often escaping from the minds of the international community that there is a serious threat to the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and whatever democracy is left.

The domestic pressure of a micro group which has a macro effect influencing the national agenda of the nation pushed the incumbent Rajapaksa government to consider Tamil Tiger endeavors not as simple criminal justice acts as was viewed by previous administrations but seriously consider those as terrorist acts. In the course of the counter-terrorism moves it became a Herculean task to strike a balance between national security and human rights.

It is this issue that the American ambassador highlighted when he addressed the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo. And, advocating the upholding of human rights and civil liberties is one thing and striking a balance between safeguarding national security and human rights in the midst of a terrorist war is another matter altogether.

Since the attack on 9/11 the Bush administration did not even think of balancing the two when the United States was engaged in a serious Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

There were credible reports that torture, which includes waterboarding, was used on ‘enemy combatants’ during interrogations. The evidence is already before President-Elect Obama. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 set up a system of ‘FISA Courts’ which would decide when it can approve for the federal government to spy on people. The Bush administration conducted ‘warrant less surveillance’ by avoiding FISA Courts which most critics denounce as a blatant violation of human rights. This was one of the measures taken to prevent any future attacks on the American soil, and it worked.

Habeas Corpus was suspended by the Republican-controlled Congress at the behest of the Bush White House, and it was after the Democratic Party wrested control of the US Congress in January 2007 that it was restored.

About 125 ‘enemy combatants’ are currently held in Guantanamo without affording them the due process of the law. There are two held on the American soil without any charges since 9/11 languished in a military installation.

Bringing before justice of those who killed innocent civilians in Iraq has become a very slow process. Some have been discharged with no proper inquiry.

The list is very long and all these in the name of national security.

It is now quite evident that the Bush-Chaney White House used ‘Executive Privilege’ as an excuse to violate human rights and civil liberties that the United States stood for centuries and was used as moral guidance to advocate to the world, including Sri Lanka, the importance of human rights and civil liberties.

With this preamble there were several issues that are connected with Ambassador Blake’s pronouncements that need to be addressed here:

(a) "American policy toward Sri Lanka has been dominated for the past twenty-five years by the civil conflict that has plagued and terrorized this nation".

Any academic will tell that when one uses the term ‘civil conflict’, especially in a situation in Sri Lanka in which four major ethnic groups (74% Sinhalese, 12% Tamils, 8% Muslims & 5% Tamils of Indian Origin), there is a confrontation between two ethnic groups making it an ethic problem. The LTTE who claim to be the sole representative of the Tamil people removed the Muslim and Sinhalese residence from the Northern Province in the eighties and kept the remaining Tamils in LTTE-controlled territory under its rigid grip denying their basic freedoms and democratic rights. LTTE wants to erase that ignominious past pronouncing that there is an ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. ‘Civil conflict’ goes parallel with that term.

(b) "However, it remains for the country’s two main Sinhalese parties, the SLFP and UNP, to agree on the document, which has proved a significant hurdle thus far".

The ambassador is using the same language the Tamil Tigers used all these years and continue to use to separate the two major political parties from the rest of the minorities especially the 12% Tamils. It is this American Embassy ‘language’ that has crept into official US State Department and Congressional Research Service (CRS) documents that describe the Government of Sri Lanka as the ‘Sinhalese-dominated government’. Couple of years ago when the Asian Tribune challenged the US State Department that used this term to describe the Sri Lanka government and subsequently due to Asian Tribune report it discretely dropped the phrase.

(c) "Pursuing both a political solution and achieving a military victory are not mutually exclusive. In fact, reaching a political solution now could significantly weaken the LTTE in several ways".

Ambassador Blake’s admission that the GSL ‘liberated’ the East is another issue need to be discussed later. Nevertheless he gives several reasons how a political solution could weaken the LTTE:

(1) "It would disprove the LTTE’s claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and are the only ones who can address and safeguard their interests." 54% of the 12% Tamils are now domiciled in Sinhalese-majority districts in the rest of country away from the despotic rule of the LTTE. We do not suggest that this 54% are totally satisfied with the governance of the country but chose to be away from the LTTE domain making the LTTE dream of being the sole representative of the Tamil people a utopian concept. They have much more democratic and economic freedom than what they experienced under the LTTE controlled areas.

Mr. Blake notes: "It would diminish support for the LTTE, both within LTTE-controlled areas and among the Tamil Diaspora community abroad". (2) The support started diminishing two years ago. Mr. Blake says "And it would help reassure the more than 200,000 displaced by the conflict in the Vanni that they can move south where they could aspire to a better future". In the liberated East all ethnic communities are beginning to aspire to a better future. If the LTTE is routed from the north they need not come to the south.

(d) "US aid to Sri Lanka. Over the past half century, the United States has provided more than two billion dollars worth of assistance to the people of Sri Lanka. We have done this for several reasons – to help Sri Lankans increase their economic opportunities and improve their quality of life, and to help ease the hardship caused by this brutal conflict" says the ambassador.

The Asian Tribune in the past two years has carried many reports as to how the economic assistance to Sri Lanka decreased since Mr. Rajapaksa took office and how it significantly declined since 2006 when the "brutal conflict" heightened. These columns produced data from official US Congressional documents. The US Senate Judiciary Committee headed by Patrick Leahy acting upon the political reports supplied by the Mr. Blake’s embassy in Colombo through the South Asian Affairs Bureau in the US State Department directed the halt of military assistance to Sri Lanka. The same Senate Judiciary Committee directed the State Department to take Sri Lanka out of the Millennium Challenge Corporation grant acting on the political reports sent by Mr. Blake’s embassy in Colombo. The reports are joint endeavor of the American embassy but obviously written with a very good flow and cogent manner by the Chief of the embassy’s political division Mr. De Tar who was honored with the distinguish honor award by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for ‘superior performance in political reporting’ early this week in Washington.

(e) The ambassador further states: “One immediate assistance question for the United States is: with the Government liberating large parts of former-LTTE controlled territories, how can my country best support the urgent needs of the people in those areas?”

When the term ‘liberated’ is used it has a very serious meaning, and Ambassador Robert Blake quite accidentally used the term. The Government of Sri Lanka did ‘liberate’ the Eastern Province, held provincial elections under the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which was declared a free and fair exercise by domestic and international observers after a lapse of 14 years, launched the process to restore democratic and human rights, civil liberties and rule of law to all ethnic communities – Tamils being the majority – in the three districts of the Eastern Province, and most importantly allowed the populous to elect a former child soldier of the LTTE as the province’s chief executive.

It is in this ‘liberated atmosphere’ that the United States has stepped in to provide socio-economic assistance as outlined by the American ambassador in his address before the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo that will undoubtedly benefit the people of the Eastern Province and well received by them.

It is the same ‘liberation’ that the Government of Sri Lanka is endeavoring to bring to the people of the north in its serious offensive against the Tamil Tigers to pave the way for the United States to restore the socio-economic assistance to the previous level or increase to the level that reached under the Ranil Wickremasinghe stewardship of the country in 2002-04 that the then American ambassador Mr. Jeffrey Lunstead hailed in his pronouncements and writings when the LTTE almost won the ‘Tamil Homeland’ or ‘LTTE-controlled Homeland’ Mr. Richard Boucher, the incumbent head of the South Asian Affairs Bureau of the US State Department, in mid-2006 advocated at a press briefing in Colombo.

There is indeed a delicate balance between national security and human rights when a country like Sri Lanka which is out of America’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) orbit endeavors to rout the homegrown terrorists who are to date have not being a threat to any global interests of the United States. When economic, political, military, trade, investment and other interests of the United States have not being threatened by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the State Department and its overseas envoys like Mr. Blake and Mr. De Tar equate the LTTE agenda to the rights of the minority ethnic Tamils to the delight of the LTTE because the sustenance of the LTTE movement wrests as long as Tamils and the LTTE are kept in a single fold. With some adventurism and at the cost of some civil liberties the Government of Sri Lanka, in its current military offensive against the Tamil Tigers, endeavors to bring the economic rights of the vast rural masses that belong to all ethnic communities who were neglected for two to three decades.

Ambassador’s highlight of human rights and a political solution undoubtedly gives solace to the LTTE who is not talking these days about their military defeats in the hands of the Sri Lanka military but about genocide, human rights, refugees and civilian deaths. Next, when Mr. Blake makes genocide, human rights, refugees and civilian deaths it may look like both Mr. Blake and the LTTE are reading from the same book. Mr. Blake defers only on one issue with the Tamil Tigers: The Cluster Bombs to which the United States refused to be a signatory to the international covenant on December 4.

- Asian Tribune -

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