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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2559

U.S. Employs less Direct Role in Sri Lanka Conflict Says Steven Mann Advocating Political Solution to Terrorism

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune News Analysis

Washington, D.C., 10 March (Asiantribune.com): The U.S. State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asia Steven R. Mann was his country’s ambassador in a Central Asian nation Turkmenistan when Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger outfit ceremonially rejected the government’s 2000 proposals.Ambassador Steven Mann: “There is a military challenge to which the Government must react. Yet at the same time there is a great political element,” Ambassador Steven Mann: “There is a military challenge to which the Government must react. Yet at the same time there is a great political element,”

Political observers at that time confirmed that those were the best proposals Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils got to solve the national question in the country. Nevertheless, Tamil Tigers were not prepared to accept it.

Conducting a media briefing after his talks with Sri Lanka government leaders and civil society activists on Friday, 9th March, Ambassador Mann wouldn’t have forgotten the substance of 2000 proposals sooner he read in Washington before leaving for Colombo and that the Tamil Tigers rejected it for him to say that his government is supportive of a political framework equal to the 2000 proposals.

When he was in Colombo on a previous occasion August 17 last year, Steven Mann briefing the media reiterated that the U.S. principles (toward Sri Lanka conflict) are very well known and that they are fundamentally unchanging.

On Friday he said in Colombo, while reminding the media that his country has a limited role or ‘less direct role for U.S. at the moment’, admitted there was a powerful military element to fighting the war nevertheless emphasized that the conflict needs an effective political answer involving all political parties.

Monitoring Sri Lanka conflict from Washington while reading cables sent from the American embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Ambassador Mann by now should understand that the scenario in Sri Lanka has completely changed when he was there as the deputy chief of mission.

According to reports reaching Asian Tribune about his diplomatic efforts in Colombo last few days, Steven Mann has not addressed issues that have emerged in recent times (a) Tamil Tigers losing its grip on its captive Tamil people in the north and east region of the country (b) Tamil Tiger defeats in the east in the hands of the Sri Lanka military (c) a 54% of ethnic Tamils now settled in majority Sinhalese districts outside north and east (d) the rapid rise of its break-away group Karuna in the east destabilizing the LTTE in that region (e) the Rajapaksa government’s seriousness of finding a political solution to the ‘national question’ giving priority to Tamil grievances (f) the separation of Tiger terrorism and Tamil grievances shattering the Tiger claim that they were the ‘sole representative of the Tamil People’, to give a correct guidance to the Government of Sri Lanka as an envoy of the Bush administration. Sri Lanka President meeting Ambassador Steven Mann - Sri Lankan President told Ambassador Steven Mann that his Sri Lanka Freedom Party has already prepared proposals to be forwarded to the All Party Representative Committee soon.Sri Lanka President meeting Ambassador Steven Mann - Sri Lankan President told Ambassador Steven Mann that his Sri Lanka Freedom Party has already prepared proposals to be forwarded to the All Party Representative Committee soon.

Ambassador Steven R. Mann joined the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in May 2006 and is responsible for the full range of foreign policy issues in the region, including management of US relations with India and region-wide energy issues. Mann has a long professional connection to Sri Lanka and is very familiar with the ‘National Issue’ when he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in the American Embassy in Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1994.

He served under the most erudite and outspoken Senior Foreign Service Officer Ambassador Teresita Schaffer whose major interests during that time were ‘Tamil grievances’, ‘LTTE terrorism’, ‘Tamil homeland issue’, ‘Sri Lanka government attitude toward all the above’, ‘conflict resolution’, ‘policies of a Sinhalese-dominated government’ and ‘political solution to ethnic conflict.’ His professional dealings with Schaffer, who held strong views somewhat partial to the Liberation Tigers and well known nationally and internationally, helped him in his next job in the South Asia Bureau as the Country Director for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka from 1995 to 1998. From there he was posted to the Central Asian nation Turkmenistan as his country’s ambassador.

The United States, which is waging its global war on terrorism thousands of miles away from its own soil, Tamil Tiger terrorism does not fall in the same category as those of Hezbollah or Hamas. And Ambassador Steve Mann’s own experience when he was stationed in Colombo under the tutelage of Tesi Shaffer and subsequently as Country Director of Sri Lanka in Washington, influenced him to be aware of that fact when he indicated in Colombo on August 17 that the changing ground situation in Sri Lanka, the growing dissent among the LTTE ranks with the breakaway of Col. Karuna faction, the visible Tamil opposition in both Sri Lanka and among the Tamil Diaspora in Western nations and LTTE losing its grip as the ‘sole representative of the Tamil people’ have not fundamentally changed the U.S. principles toward Sri Lanka on the ‘National Issue’.

Steven Mann seems to have echoed the same sentiments in Colombo last Friday 9th March with less understanding of the developing ground situation in Sri Lanka with the emergence of different players. Or, may be he deliberately ignores the reality.

Colonel R. Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia and who served the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka during its deployment in 1987 as Head of Intelligence came up with this analysis on U.S. attitude toward Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger terrorism: “Or in a simple term, U.S. policy continues to remain the same: when it comes to fighting terrorism, all terrorists are abominable; but some terrorists are more abominable and the U.S. will fight only those more abominable ones.”

“There is a military challenge to which the Government must react. Yet at the same time there is a great political element,” Mann told the Colombo media.

Asian Tribune has not heard that the Sri Lankan media reminded the American diplomat that all the proposals the successive government forwarded were totally rejected by the LTTE and that there are other Tamil elements in the equation that cannot be ignored while the Muslim factor was long forgotten.

“The issue of human rights was an important part of my dialogue with the president. The human rights situation and need for strong human rights performance on part of the government and all of its agencies and branches is a very strong thing for the United States. We take these issues very seriously,” Steven Mann told the media.

The State Departments’ Annual Country Reports on Human Rights released on 06 March was very critical of the government and the Tamil Tigers of blatant violations of human rights and focused on abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings that were on the rise in recent months in the north-east war theater and in the south.

Ambassador Mann nevertheless admitted the Sri Lanka Government had a difficult task in fighting terrorism while pursuing political solution to the three-decade old conflict between separatist Tamil Tigers and successive Sri Lanka regimes.

Mr. Mann was in Sri Lanka on March 8-9 for talks with the government, opposition, civil society leaders and non-governmental organizations.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, popularly known as Tamil Tigers, has been on a military confrontation with the Government of Sri Lanka since early eighties to establish a separate ethnic Tamil minority state in the north and east of the country. It had several rounds of talks with the government to arrive at a political solution but failed when Tigers often rejecting proposals brought by the government, some jointly arranged by both parties. Since the advent of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in November 2005, the Tamil Tigers has been attacking military installations and civilians to provoke the administration. In April 2005, when the Tigers attempted to assassinate the chief of Sri Lanka’s military, the government which acted with restraint, retaliated almost clearing the eastern province pockets held by the Tigers.

Despite calls by the international community, especially the United States, to stop its military offensive, the Rajapaksa administration continued its military endeavor while expressing its total commitment to a political solution. The president told Steven Mann that his Sri Lanka Freedom Party has already prepared proposals to be forwarded to the All Party Representative Committee soon.

With the escalation of the military battle between the government and the Tamil Tigers, the latter facing severe defeats in the eastern part of the country, the Bush White House on representations made by 36 US Congressman in January this year to intervene, sent State Department’s Steven Mann for a first hand assessment of the situation in the country.

- Asian Tribune -

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