Thank you Ambassador Gtoonetilleke, distinguished speakers, and co-chairman Pallone for hosting this important and timely briefing today.

As many of you know, I had the privilege to travel to Sri Lanka, now two years ago, and see first hand what the country is grappling with in their long conflict with the LTTE. Let me say that the warmth and hospitality I received from the people of Sri Lanka was incredible and your country, Mr. Ambassador, is very special to me.

Something I noticed at that time was a sense of optimism among the people. The cease-fire with the LTTE was still fresh and hope was newly minted in the people that perhaps finally, the decades old terrorist aggression by the LTTE might be coming to an end. Sri Lanka has long fought with terrorists from within its own country and has worked diligently to maintain the cease fire so carefully brokered, and yet so fragile.

Mr. Ambassador, the restraint your government has shown in the face of the LTTE terror assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a gentleman I had the pleasure to meet and discuss Sri Lanka’s future with, is remarkable. This shows the intensity and the importance the government places on peace in Sri Lanka. In fact, the Scandanavian truce monitors have reported that through May 2005, there were 2903 cease-fire violations committed by the LTTE, while only 131 violations of the cease-fire by the government of Sri Lanka. It is clear to see who has taken this responsibility of maintaining the peace the most seriously.

Of course, we all know that Sri Lanka was one of the countries most devastated by the tsunami of December 2004. Sri Lanka’s fragile economy has been seriously harmed by the tsunami and this is yet another area where the United States can be helpful in the rebuilding process not only through aid, but through trade. I think it is a most generous act that Sri Lanka - still reeling from its own tsunami - was one of the first nations to step up to the plate when Hurricane Katrina slammed into our Gulf Coast, offering donations of money and medical personnel, and the worlds finest tea to the victims. Sri Lanka has been a consistent friend and ally of the United States, and their partnership continues.

Our speakers today will inform us more about the challenges Sri Lanka faces, with a focus on the future of the cease-fire and how the United States and its partners in the international community can be helping to ensure peace and stability are firmed in this important island nation. Again, thank you for being here today.


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