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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2558

Sri Lanka Army Commander in Washington meets with Senior US Pol-Mil Officials including Nicholas Burns

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 01 December (Asiantribune.com): The second ranking diplomat in Bush administration’s foreign affairs apparatus, the Department of State, under secretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns, who has taken a hard-line attitude on Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers in recent times, made himself available on Tuesday 28 November for a ‘constructive dialogue’, as one Asian Tribune source put it, to Sri Lanka army commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka.

The discussion took place at the seventh floor of the Department attended by the South Asia nation’s Washington diplomat Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke.

Fonseka briefed Nicholas Burns, at present number two to secretary of State Condi Rice as the deputy secretary position is now vacant, that despite his government is in search of a political solution to the country’s national question, but that “search for peace must not allow the separatist Tamil Tigers to strengthen its military capability thereby weakening the defense of the country.

Burns, at the conclusion of the recently convened Co-Chair session in Washington told the media that Sri Lanka has the right to use military offensive against the Tamil Tigers to safeguard its territorial integrity and sovereignty while denouncing the rebels using civilian cover to attack positions of government military forces. Deviating from the proposition espoused by his assistant secretary in charge of the South and Central Asian Region Richard Boucher that ‘Tamil Homeland’ for the Tamil minority could help bring a solution to Sri Lanka’s crisis, Burns categorically stated, and endorsed earlier by the Co-Chair, in his media briefing in Washington on 21 November that the aspirations of all ethnic groups, Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims, should constitute the final solution and that "this is the one and only approach the United States has toward Sri Lanka."

In September, the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka expressed the same sentiments at a Colombo press briefing.

General Fonseka further told Mr. Burns that in the four years of the ceasefire, there had been considerable military build up on the part of the LTTE. "Artillery pieces had risen from 10 to 100, from two 122 mm guns to 20 and from 20 heavy mortars to 80. In effect, the four year’s of ceasefire had helped the Tamil Tigers to become a stronger fighting force."

The Commander was of the view that unless (LTTE leader) Prabhakaran was militarily weakened there could be no chance for peace and that he will not toe the line advocated by the international community. Therefore, it was imperative that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) checks his military capacity, at least to ensure that he does not grow stronger militarily to the extent that he sees no reason to seek a political solution.

Sri Lanka army commander said "to do that the army is capable" and that "the army had done that during the past few months."

Fonseks, at his meeting with Nicholas Burns, acknowledged that the military had to sacrifice about 300 soldiers in the battle in Muhamalai in just one and half weeks. However, engaging in such battles was necessary in order to deny the LTTE strategic advantage to advance into security forces controlled areas, as they were seeking to do recently by trying to retake the (northern-most) Jaffna Peninsula.

During his three-day stay in the American capital, General Sarath Fonseka had meetings at the Pentagon with his counterpart General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff US Army, and other senior officials of the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On political side, or the mixer of political-military side, Fonseka, in the company of Ambassador Goonetilleke, Sri Lanka Deputy Chief of Mission Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, Defense Attaché Brig. Athula Jayawardene and Military Assistant to the Commander Lt.Col. Channa Keppetiwarana, met with Principal Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs Steven Mann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Michael Coulter and Sri Lanka Desk Officer in the State Department Molly Gower.

Ambassador Steven Mann was the deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Sri Lanka from 94-96.

The Tamil Tigers, under their military vanguard Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been fighting the Sri Lanka state since mid-eighties to win a separate independent state in the north and east for the country’s 12.5% Tamil minority. They accused the successive governments of discriminating against the Tamil minority which was rejected by Sri Lankan administrations despite admitting there were unsolved issues facing the Tamil minority.

The government rejects that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamils presenting data that approximately 54% of the country’s 12.5% Sri Lankan Tamils live out side north and east in other parts of the country among the majority Sinhalese. Indian plantation Tamils, 5.5%, live in the center of the island in tea and rubber plantation districts. A distinct nationality, they have no connections with Tamil Tigers.

There had been several talks between the Tamil Tigers and the government since the 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement was put in place, but hostilities escalated between the two warring factions since Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as president of the country in November 2005.

- Asian Tribune -

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