Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has said there has been a significant improvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka over the past few months and that the Government was vigorously pursuing action against alleged human rights abusers with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice. The Minister also added that the All Party Representative Conference (APRC), which is tasked with finding a Southern consensus to solve the conflict in Sri Lanka is expected to complete the process shortly.

The Minister made these observations in reviewing developments in Sri Lanka at a meeting with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, held at the State Department in Washington D.C. on Thursday (04 October 2007).

They also discussed the issues raised in the amendment proposed by Senator Leahy to the Department of State Appropriation Bill for FY 2008, to introduce restrictions on defense co-operation with Sri Lanka on account of alleged human rights issues.

Referring to matters raised in the amendment-

- with regard to the issue of alleged impunity enjoyed by errant personnel of the armed forces and police, the Minister provided information on indictments served, as well as convictions, against such personnel during the past few years.

- on the issue of unimpeded access to "Tamil areas", for NGOs and journalists, the Minister said that no less than 21 non-governmental agencies approved by the United Nations are currently providing services to the affected populations in the North and the East. Similarly, he said journalists have access to the conflict areas and that recently a group of journalists including the BBC, Reuters, Reuters TV, AP, APTV, Al Jazzera and Daily Telegraph, visited the Vanni.

- referring to the issue of establishment of a field presence of the Office of the UN Higher Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka (OHCHR), the Minister pointed out that many UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations already have a presence in Sri Lanka. He also highlighted the fact that the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) already has a representative in Sri Lanka, whose work is assisted by another officer of that organization. Pointing out that High Commissioner Ms. Louise Arbor is due to visit Colombo next week, the Minister said that visit would provide an opportunity for Sri Lanka to express its views on this issue.

The two sides also discussed recent activities of the LTTE and Minister Bogollagama briefed the U.S. Under-Secretary on the action taken by the Sri Lanka Government to destroy three LTTE ships functioning as floating arms depots from which the LTTE replenished its stocks.

Minister Bogollagama said while the Government of Sri Lanka was committed to find a political settlement and was not seeking a military solution to the conflict, it will continue to engage the LTTE in instances where the terrorist organization posed a threat to the territorial integrity and security of Sri Lanka and its people. In the same context, the Minister briefed Ambassador Burns on the earlier engagements of the security forces in the Eastern Province, which enabled the Government to rid the area of LTTE presence. He said that the restoration of normalcy in this region would serve as a model in post conflict development.

Associated with Minister Bogollagama at this meeting were Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in the U.S., Bernard Goonetilleke, The Foreign Ministry’s Additional Secretary/UN & SAARC Sarala Fernando and Director General/ Public Communications, Ravinatha Aryasinha.

During his stay in Washington D.C., Minister Bogollagama also had meetings with Actg. Attorney-General Peter D. Keisler and senior officials of the Justice Department; Deputy National Security Advisor Ambassador James F. Jeffrey; Under-Secretary of the Department of Defence Eric Edelman; Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey of the Department of the Treasury.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

05 October 2007

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