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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

US Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns Leads today’s Sri Lanka Co-Chair Session in Washington

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 21 November (Asiantribune.com): After preliminary meeting of Tokyo Donor Conference on Sri Lanka was convened on Monday (20) afternoon in Washington, the ‘conference proper’ will commence this morning, Tuesday November 21 in which the United States representatives will be led by State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.

Burns will be joined by his assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher along with other Co-Chairs from Norway, European Union and Japan.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the daily press briefing here on Monday at the State Department that “this is basically the main forum that we’re using to discuss strategies that the international community can pursue to be able to encourage the peace process in Sri Lanka.”

According to the State Department, Tuesday’s session is the one the Co-Chairs will seriously scrutinize the situation in Sri Lanka to arrive at several decisions that will help move the peace process in Sri Lanka while attempting to end hostilities between the warring faction, the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka government forces and the Liberation Tigers have been engaged in a military offensive since mid-eighties. Tamil Tigers accused the successive Sri Lanka governments of discriminating against the minority Tamils and are claiming the north and east of the country for a separate ethnic Tamil state. The government says that a majority of minority Tamils are living outside the north and east of the country among the majority Sinhalese in the south and that the Tamil Tigers do not represent the entire minority Tamils as there are other Tamil political movements that are operating in the democratic mainstream.

It is interesting to note that both Burns and Boucher, for the first time, have joined hands to attend the Co-Chair session to resolve this Sri Lanka crisis. It was Boucher who attended the Brussels sessions last September that forced the two parties to go to the negotiating table in Geneva on October.

In Sri Lanka’s national question and the hostilities between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Tamil Tigers, Burns and Boucher have taken separate views, the former taking a rigid attitude toward the Liberation Tigers while accepting Sri Lanka government forces’ military strategy as a normal military offensive toward safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty, the latter advocates “homeland for the Tamil minority” as a pacifist attitude of resolving the crisis.

Meanwhile, American Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake on September 19 declared “the Sri Lanka government must show it is willing to address legitimate Tamil grievances, including articulating a political vision for the future of the country that provides room for the aspirations of all Sri Lankans, from all religious and ethnicities.”

It is interesting to find out after Tuesday’s session in Washington whether it is a combination of all the sentiments expressed by senior American policymakers, which can be a single package with contradictions, or a mixer of a pol-mil package that may give an upper hand to Sri Lankan authorities while giving the latter the latitude to come up with a package to address the national question. Norway, the current mediator between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers and the ‘custodian’ of the 2002 ceasefire agreement and the European Union do play a vital role in this Co-Chair session in Washington.

Attending a round table of South Asian journalists in Washington last October 20, Under Secretary Nicholas Burns categorically stated that the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) “brought nothing but misery to the people of Sri Lanka as well as to the Tamil population of Sri Lanka.”

Asked why Washington was pushing for negotiations between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department, Burns reiterated that Washington had no sympathy for the rebels.

In contrast, his assistant Richard Boucher who handles the South Asia region espouses a “homeland” for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, and at the press briefing in Colombo on October 20 he criticized the de-merger of the northern and eastern provinces.

It is interesting that ‘hardliner’ Nicholas Burns has opted to attend the Co-Chair meeting in Washington on Tuesday November 21, a session normally attended by his assistant secretary Richard Boucher.

At the end of the Washington session of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference, a press briefing will be given by the members of the Conference, and Under Secretary Nicholas Burns is scheduled to address the media regarding the decisions and the outcome of the meeting.

- Asian Tribune -

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