Turn from Conflict Concerns to the Humanitarian Relief Mission

Ambassador Wickramasuriya with Rep. Joe Wilson
(Republican - South Carolina)

Ambassador Wickramasuriya with Rep. Heath Shuler
(Democrat - North Carolina)

Ambassador Wickramasuriya with Rep Mike Ross
(Democrat - Arkansas)

Ambassador Wickramasuriya with Rep Joseph Crowley
(Democrat - New York)

Ambassador Wickramasuriya in conversation with Rep. Shelley Berkley (Democrat - Nevada)

Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States continued meetings with members of Congress in April, offering briefings on the coming conclusion of the government’s conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as well as prospects for civilian resettlement and redevelopment.

Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya stressed the government’s intent to resettle displaced persons as soon as possible. He explained to those he met with in Congress the success the government has realized in resettling and rebuilding the Eastern Province.

Ambassador Wickramasuriya met six members of the House of Representatives during the third week of April. He will continue meetings on Capitol Hill this week and next. All six members of the House expressed their support for the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to conclude its conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE.

Several representatives, such as South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, compared the struggle in Sri Lanka to efforts by the U.S. to rid Afghanistan and Pakistan of the Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists. Wilson, a leader in the India caucus in the House, said a swift end to the fighting in Sri Lanka would, “be good for the whole region, for all of South Asia.”

Ambassador Wickramasuriya used maps and diagrams to show each member of Congress just how much ground Sri Lankan forces had wrested from the LTTE in recent months. He explained the need for aid for extensive de-mining operations, as well the disciplined approach that Sri Lankan forces had taken to safeguard civilians in an increasingly complex battle zone.

Ambassador also showed members of Congress where the government had established welfare centers for the 180,000 people who have left LTTE areas until the fighting ends. Included among them are the 111,000 people who escaped from the LTTE within the last week alone.

“Our main purpose is getting the civilians out of danger,” Ambassador Wickramasuriya told those in Congress. “The Tigers were firing at the civilians who were fleeing.” Apart from Rep. Wilson, Ambassador Wickramasuriya met with Rep. Heath Shuler, a North Carolina democrat, Rep. Mike Ross, a democrat from Arkansas, Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York democrat, Rep. Shelley Berkley, a democrat from Nevada and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland democrat.

Rep. Van Hollen’s father served as the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1972 to 1976, and Rep. Van Hollen spent those years as a boy living in Sri Lanka.

While about 30 members of Congress recently wrote a letter calling for a ceasefire in the conflict, many others are expressing support for Sri Lanka’s effort to end the fighting once and for all. Indeed, in meetings with Ambassador Wickramasuriya, members of Congress have called the ceasefire letter mistake.

A ceasefire, Ambassador Wickaramsuriya noted in the meetings, would allow the LTTE to rearm and regroup. The recent two-day unilateral pause in the conflict, he noted, allowed the LTTE to fortify defenses to keep the civilians form escaping.

Several of the House members have already visited Sri Lanka, and Ambassador Wickramasuirya is helping some members of Congress organize Congressional fact-finding visits in near future.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

27 April 2009

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