Leader of the House of Parliament and Health and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who is also the Sri Lanka Government Chief Negotiator with the LTTE, has urged members of the US legislative, that when assessing developments relating to Sri Lanka, to exercise caution in separating the real situation on the ground with respect to the conflict and the LTTE, from the disinformation being spread by the LTTE and its agents. The Minister reminded his audience of the recent F.B.I. arrests in the U.S. of LTTE agents seeking to purchase surface to air missiles, to bribe officials to have the LTTE proscription lifted and to gain access to confidential official reports on the activities of LTTE front organizations. He said it is alleged that LTTE funds were laundered to pay for the travel of at least one Congressman to Sri Lanka.

The Minister made these observations, when accompanied by the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOOP) Dr. Palitha Kohona, he held a series of meetings this week in Washington D.C. with the Co - Chair of the Sri Lanka Congressional Caucus Congressman Frank Pallone (Democrat/New Jersey), Congressman Chris Van Hollen (Democrat/Maryland), Congressman Shelly Berkeley (Democrat-Nevada), Congressman Rush Holt (Democrat/New Jersey) and Senator Diane Feinstein (Democrat/California). The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Sri Lanka Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha and Mr. Jeff M. Goonewardena, were associated at these meetings.

In his briefings to the congressmen, the Minister explained the significant steps the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had taken since being elected to office to restore peace in Sri Lanka. He refuted the notion that the Government had intensified its military campaign, saying recent attacks by the security forces were defensive action undertaken in the face of LTTE action to cut off water supply to an area in the Eastern Province, engage in ethnic cleansing of Muslims from parts of the East and attacks on government air and naval installations in Trincomalee and Jaffna. He made clear that the Government of Sri Lanka was fully committed to find a political settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka, but that it was the LTTE’s unwillingness that stood in the way. They detailed how the LTTE did not agree to a follow-up meeting in Geneva and subsequently travelled all the way to Norway, but refused to sit with the Sri Lanka delegation for talks.

Responding to New Jersey’s Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, who said he had written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking that she appoint a special envoy for Sri Lanka as he was deeply troubled by the situation on the ground, particularly questions relating to the killing of the 17 ACF aid workers in Muttur, the Minister said the Government was equally troubled by that act and had condemned in unreservedly. The President had immediately instituted an inquiry drawing assistance from Australian forensic and ballistic experts. Their report was awaited. The appointment of an international independent group of eminent persons to act as observers of investigations into abductions, disappearance and extra judicial killings, was reflective of the governments commitment to fully investigate any allegations of human rights and to bring the perpetrators to justice. It was noted that the Government was conscious of the fact that there were clear attempts by the LTTE to deflect attention from their continued violence, by discrediting the Government of Sri Lanka with regard to alleged human rights violations. The Minister said President Rajapaksa had told U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns who met him in the company of the Minister and the Foreign Minister on Wednesday in New York, that once the facts of the case were established, the Government would have no hesitation in enforcing maximum punishment in accordance with the due process of law which prevails in the country. Under Secretary Burns had been appreciative of the efforts being made by the President to recommence negotiations and the initiative taken by him to invite an international observer group, in response to concerns raised by the international community.

Responding to another aspect of disinformation raised by Congressman Holt, that the air force had attacked a "school" in Mullaitivu, it was pointed out that even the LTTE had not claimed that it had been a “school” and had only characterized it as an "orphanage". The Minister said it had been established that this facility had once been an orphanage, but was relocated in January 2006. At the time of the strike by security forces, this establishment was being used by the LTTE as a training camp. It was noted that several young women injured in the attack and who received medical treatment at the Kandy Hospital had said that they were forced to go to Mullaithivu camp ostensibly for first aid training but were given weapons training. It was noted that while the LTTE is well known for the use of child soldiers, in the recent past, the LTTE has regularly provided weapons training for the people’s militia, and, from time to time, teenage cadres too have been given weapons training at these premises.

Minister de Silva and Secretary General Kohona also impressed on the congressmen they met, that one of the best indicators of the true situation in Sri Lanka was the fact that 54% of the Tamils lived in areas outside LTTE dominance enjoying all democratic freedoms, while those in areas dominated by the LTTE lived under dictatorial rule.

Congressman Holt who in his discussions with the Sri Lanka delegation acknowledged that the information received by him from various sources was often conflicting, said he was very pleased to hear the views expressed by the Minister, particularly that Sri Lanka was having transparent investigations into allegations of human rights abuse.

In his discussions with the congressmen the Minister emphasised that Sri Lanka was deeply appreciative of the steadfast support provided by the U.S. to Sri Lanka as a Co-Chair helping to further the peace process, as well as in Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. Referring to the recent FBI arrests of LTTE agents in the US, the Minister said such tangible action would make a great contribution towards pushing the peace process in Sri Lanka forward, as history shows that starving terrorist organizations of funds and arms, eventually forces them to come to the negotiating table. Presently, besides the psychological blow it caused to the LTTE, such action also had the effect of opening up greater space for democratic activism by Tamils who live in the diaspora, who have for long opposed the LTTE’s terrorist agenda and acts of extortion and intimidation, but feared to raise their voice, as their host governments did not appear responsive. The delegation impressed on the need for continued international action to curb the activities of the LTTE and its front organizations, as well as to thwart their fund raising and arms procurement.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

22 September 2006

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