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 their lives.

No civilian casualty is acceptable. But it is remarkable that so many people were able to flee the LTTE without serious injury.

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
Washington DC

17 May 2009


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