SRI LANKAN FOREIGN SECRETARY DISCUSSES
END OF LTTE CONFLICT WITH U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS
Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s foreign
secretary, met with top U.S. State Department officials Friday.
The end of the 25-year-long conflict with the terrorist LTTE was
at the core of the discussions.
With about 500 LTTE combatants cornered by government
security forces in northeastern Sri Lanka, the foreign secretary
told Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South
and Central Asian Affairs, that Sri Lankan forces are, consistent
with government policy, exercising extreme caution to safeguard
civilians held hostage in the no-fire zone by the LTTE.
The government believes that 30,000 to 60,000
civilians are held forcibly by the LTTE as a human shield in a
small area north of Mullaittivu.
During the cordial meeting, Assistant Secretary
of State Boucher reiterated the call by the Tokyo Co-Chairs --
which includes the U.S., Japan, the European Union and Norway
- for the LTTE to “allow civilians to move freely out of
The Assistant Secretary of State also raised
the possibility of having an individual meet with LTTE leaders
to discuss a surrender under which the LTTE would lay down their
In talks with the Assistant Secretary of State,
the Foreign Secretary vehemently denounced allegations that the
Sri Lankan security forces are shelling civilians within the government-declared
no-fire zone. He said there is no substantiated evidence to support
this claim. Furthermore, there is no advantage at all to the security
forces in shelling civilians.
On the subject of an IMF loan facility sought
by Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary noted that Sri Lanka is asking
for a standby facility against the backdrop of the global financial
The Foreign Secretary also noted that it was
the government -- not the LTTE -- that had declared the no-fire
zone to protect the civilians the LTTE had “herded“
into this small area.
The Foreign Secretary, accompanied in the State
Department meeting by Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s
Ambassador to the U.S., pointed out that the government has continued
to deliver food and medicine to the no-fire zone, and to aid the
evacuation of civilians. These supplies, he said, are also being
used by the LTTE.
So far, about 65,000 civilians have fled the
LTTE areas. More than 3,200 injured or ill civilians and another
4,000 healthy bystanders have been evacuated by ship by the ICRC.
Those civilians were moved through government transit centers
to welfare villages.
The Foreign Secretary told the Assistant Secretary
of State that there is no need for more personnel from the International
Committee of the Red Cross in Sri Lanka. There are currently 646
ICRC staff members in Sri Lanka, according to the Red Cross.
The Foreign Secretary said the ICRC is no longer
required in areas once held by the LTTE but now under government
control. He also suggested that the ICRC redeploy staff recently
employed in this area and hire more Sri Lankans, especially medical
The Assistant Secretary of State raised the possibility
of using representatives from the United Nations and the ICRC
to process the internally displaced persons now residing in 13
government welfare villages.
The Foreign Secretary said the centers, while
temporary, offer residents meals, healthcare and safe shelter.
The centers now include vocational training, telephone facilities
and a program to re-unite family members who have been separated
while fleeing from LTTE-controlled areas. He noted that the positive
assessment of the centers by Walter Kaelin, the UN special representative
for displaced persons.
He said that the government’s goal is to
return the displaced to their homes quickly.
“Our objective is to get the people back
to their homes as soon as possible,” the Foreign Secretary
said during the State Department meeting, following the experience
in the Eastern Province.
A political process is currently underway. For
instance, post-conflict development, including democratic elections
that were held in the Eastern Province recently, could be considered
as part of this process for addressing minority concerns.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
10 April 2009