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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

Without CFA Negotiated Settlement and Lasting Peace Harder to Achieve in Sri Lanka: U S Ambassador Robert Blake

By Our Political Correspondent

Colombo, 13 January, (Asiantribune.com): The Sri Lankan government’s decision to terminate the often violated cease fire agreement will make a negotiated settlement and lasting peace harder to achieve stated United States Ambassador Robert Blake at the International seminar on Human Rights held at Hotel Renuka Colombo on January 11, 2008. Ambassador Blake also emphasized the need for a deep respect for human rights in Sri Lanka. He also added that because of our concerns about the escalating conflict and significant human rights problems such as forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and challenges to media freedom, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Board of Directors decided in December not to select Sri Lanka as a country eligible for a Millennium Challenge Account compact in fiscal year 2008.

The full text of Ambassador Robert Blake’s speech is given below:

Professor Fernando, Professor Orlin, Dr. Ismail, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen,

I would like to commend Professor Ravindra Fernando, the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, the Justice and Peace Commission (India), the Human Rights Education Consortium International (New York), and the Institute for Community Organization Research (India) for organizing this event, for your kind invitation to be your chief guest, and for the opportunity to speak on a subject of great importance to us all.

The friendly relations between the United States and Sri Lanka go back almost six decades. As Sri Lanka approaches the 60th anniversary of its independence, we want to build upon those ties to help Sri Lanka achieve peace, strengthen its democracy and promote economic prosperity so that this beautiful country can realize the hopes and dreams we share for it.

The United States has been a steadfast supporter of Sri Lanka’s efforts to stop the flow of arms and financing to the LTTE, by providing law enforcement assistance, and by providing training and equipment to help the Sri Lankan military defend itself against the terrorist actions of the LTTE. The ruthless murder of Minister of Nation Building Dassanayake on January 8 was the most recent in a string of assassinations by the LTTE.

While every sovereign nation must defend its people, history has shown that it is very difficult to defeat a terrorist insurgency by military means alone. Only a peaceful political solution, not a military one, offers a way out of the current cycle of escalating violence. An effective military strategy will only work if it is combined with a well-articulated political strategy to address the grievances that give rise to terrorism.

This is why the United States was troubled by the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to terminate the 2002 cease-fire agreement. The cease-fire agreement, although often violated, nonetheless provided a framework for negotiation and committed the parties to seeking a negotiated settlement. The termination of the agreement will make it more difficult to achieve that negotiated settlement that can produce a lasting, peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict.

An equally important part of national reconciliation is respect for human rights, the subject of today’s timely conference. The United States has been a strong advocate for human rights in Sri Lanka. We have seen that there is a strong correlation between levels of conflict and human rights abuses. Because of our concerns about the escalating conflict and significant human rights problems such as forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and challenges to media freedom, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Board of Directors decided in December not to select Sri Lanka as a country eligible for a Millennium Challenge Account compact in fiscal year 2008.

Similarly, President Bush signed into law last week the Foreign Appropriations Act for the State Department that included a new prohibition on defense export licenses for Sri Lanka, with the exception of licenses for air and maritime surveillance and communications equipment to help stop LTTE arms imports. This too reflected Congressional and Administration concerns about Sri Lanka’s continuing serious human rights problems and the lack of progress in investigating and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the most high profile human rights cases of recent years.

An additional concern is that the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement and imminent withdrawal of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission may cause a further deterioration in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. With the departure of the SLMM and the inability of indigenous Sri Lankan human rights institutions such as the Human Rights Commission to address human rights challenges in Sri Lanka, the U.S. has expressed its public support for the efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to expand the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

The United States is already working to assist Sri Lanka in improving the human rights situation within the country. For example, in 2007, military law professionals from the U.S. Pacific Command, in partnership with the American Embassy in Colombo, hosted a military law exchange program with the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defense to exchange ideas on ways to improve transparency, accountability, and human rights in military justice. We are now developing follow-on activities which will allow us to continue working together to strengthen Sri Lanka’s military justice institutions and further improve accountability in the military.

In conclusion let me reiterate the high priority that the United States hopes the Government of Sri Lanka will accord to reducing significantly human rights violations in 2008 and our commitment to work with the Government and civil society to achieve that goal. Such progress not only could help the Administration make a case for renewed Sri Lankan eligibility for funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, but would also mark a major step in the process of national reconciliation and peace-building.

Let me again commend the organizers of today’s event. Conferences such as this provide valuable opportunities for sharing ideas, information, and best practices that can help all of us achieve our shared goal.

- Asian Tribune -

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