Applauds U.S. Government’s Concern for Plight of Innocent Civilians and Ongoing Support for Mutual Fight Against Threats of Global Terrorism

In response to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs hearing Tuesday on recent developments in Sri Lanka, the Ambassador for Sri Lanka to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, recognizes the interest of the U.S. Congress and reaffirms the Government of Sri Lanka's commitment to supporting all Sri Lankans.

“It is the utmost priority of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Government,” said the Ambassador, “to ensure the safety and security of all our civilians and to look after their welfare. We are grateful to the U.S. Senate for holding the hearing today, and we appreciate the government’s continued understanding of our mutual fight against global terrorism. Although there are challenges remaining in Sri Lanka, we are strongly committed to democracy and promoting peace in our country.”

The official hearing record included a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama, which stated that in order to protect the remaining civilians, the Government of Sri Lanka has declared a ‘zero civilian casualty’ policy for the military. The letter also mentions that the government has already declared a ‘safe area’ for the protection of civilians but that the LTTE has infiltrated the area and resorted to firing shots into the ‘safe area’ while taking cover behind innocent civilians.

The letter also states that the “[International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)] and the UN are also helping in evacuating the injured and attending to their medical needs.

The government continues to send food and other essential items even to the uncleared areas, with the assistance of the ICRC.”

After a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) John Holmes issued a statement on Feb. 21 where he “welcomed the increasingly good cooperation between Government officials, UN agencies and NGOs in providing urgent food, shelter and medical help, and noted the key challenges ahead, including rapid and transparent registration procedures, reinforcing the civilian nature of the camps, facilitating family reunification and greater freedom of movement, and ensuring the earliest possible return of IDPs to their homes. He welcomed government assurances on all these issues, and the increasingly full access for agencies and NGOs to the transit [centers] and camps.”

Although the UN and ICRC have already been working in the area, the Ambassador addressed a concern about the safety of the government centers. “We are guarding the government centers,” he said, “to protect the innocent civilians and NGO officials there from suicide bombers and other potential LTTE terrorist activities.” In fact, the latest suicide attack took place on Feb. 9 within a government center where civilians had come to receive humanitarian assistance and medical treatment in what he called the “LTTE’s reckless attempt to intimidate other civilians from seeking safety and security.”

The Ambassador also stated that most of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka lives freely in peace and harmony with Sinhalese, Muslims and other communities throughout the country with equal representation of the three main ethnic groups in Colombo. “This conflict is not one of ethnicity, rather it is a struggle to rid Sri Lanka of a globally recognized terrorist organization - the LTTE - that has a history of oppressing portions of Sri Lanka's society and endangering the lives of all Sri Lankan citizens.”

The Ambassador “commends the Sri Lankan military for fighting one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world, while taking the utmost precautions to ensure the safety of all civilians, many of whom are constantly in grave danger by the LTTE who continue to hold them and harm them to achieve their political objectives.”

The FBI has referred to the LTTE as among the most dangerous and deadly extremist organizations in the world. For perfecting the suicide bomb and inventing the suicide belt, the FBI stated that the LTTE’s “ruthless tactics have inspired terrorist networks worldwide, including al Qaeda in Iraq.” In addition to the U.S., the LTTE is banned in Canada, United Kingdom, India and the 27-member European Union. Other disturbing incidents by the LTTE terrorists include the ongoing recruitment of child soldiers and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians by using them as human shields and even shooting those who are brave enough to flee the conflict zone.

UNICEF’s chief in Sri Lanka stated on Feb. 17 that UNICEF has received clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted. In his statement expressing grave concern for the safety of children in conflict areas, Philippe Duamelle said, “We have clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted. These children are facing immediate danger and their lives are at great risk. Their recruitment is intolerable.”

Further, Human Rights Watch claimed in a recent report that the “LTTE has been responsible for deploying their forces within densely populated areas and deliberately firing on civilians to prevent them from fleeing to safety. There is also evidence that the LTTE has used civilians as ‘human shields.’” The report continues, “The LTTE practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, rather than allowing them to flee to safer areas, has meant that LTTE forces are increasingly deployed near civilians in violation of the laws of war. When military forces deliberately use civilians to protect their positions from attack, it is considered to be ‘human shielding,’ which is a war crime.”

“President Rajapaksa is working towards a political solution,” said the Ambassador. “He has called upon all Tamil political parties in the Parliament to begin planning for a post-conflict society. We realize that once terrorism has ended, the only way forward is to bring all the parties together. As one of the longest serving democracies in Asia, we are committed to a stable, free and independent nation.”

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

25 February 2009


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