|STATEMENT OF JALIYA WICKRAMASURIYA,
SRI LANKA AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES
WASHINGTON -- As I reflect on the last few dramatic
days in Sri Lanka and the final days of the LTTE, I would like
to note with gratitude the influence that the United States has
had on this conflict, and on Sri Lanka’s future.
It is undeniable that the LTTE effectively folded
shortly after President Barack Obama told the world that the terrorists
were holding innocent Tamil civilians as hostages. He was one
of the few world leaders to note that fact so forcefully.
For the Sri Lankan leadership, that has always
been the crux of this conflict. I have repeated many times that
our primary concern was for the safety of those civilians.
We were prepared to take weeks to end this conflict,
if that was required, to ensure the safe rescue of the people
who President Obama noted were being held by the LTTE as a human
shield. He called the situation, “deplorable,” and
so it was.
And the hostages have been freed -- Sri Lanka’s
security forces opened up a path for their flight across a shallow
lagoon near Mullaittivu last week, allowing more than 50,000 civilians
to flee LTTE control in last 72 hours alone. The government estimates
that the number of civilians freed from the LTTE since April 20
is more than 145,000.
That remarkable feat wasn’t without casualties
-- at least four civilians were shot and killed by the LTTE as
they tried to escape last week, and many more were similarly killed
as they fled in the last few months. Sri Lankan troops also lost
No civilian casualty is acceptable. But it is
remarkable that so many people were able to flee the LTTE without
These civilians are of course hungry and facing
medical challenges. Though the government and the International
Committee of the Red Cross had always provided food and medicine
to the trapped civilians, we understand from escapees that the
LTTE severely rationed those supplies.
Now the hostages are safe. Sri Lanka faces a
future that is brighter than it has been for many years. President
Mahinda Rajapaksa will speak to the Parliament and the nation
Tuesday about his vision for a future without the LTTE threat.
That will be a promising moment for all Sri Lankans,
especially for those in the north who suffered through this conflict,
and who were for so long held captive by it. As the government
rebuilds their homes, villages and communities, the peace will
truly be theirs.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
17 May 2009