October 24th, 2006 04:26 EST
United States Promoting Political Solution for Sri Lanka
Washington – The people of Sri Lanka must grasp the opportunity of upcoming peace talks to pursue again a political solution to the island nation’s 28-year conflict, says Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs.
“People here are facing a critical moment,” Boucher said in an October 20 press briefing in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. “In our view, it is time to move forward.”
For decades, the Sri Lankan government has been locked in a conflict with Tamil separatists from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that has claimed more than 65,000 lives.
In a two-day visit October 19 and 20, Boucher met with senior Sri Lankan officials and humanitarian aid organizations as the government prepares to return to the negotiating table in Geneva, October 28-29 in a new push to resolve the long-running conflict. (See related article.)
Even though the two sides concluded a cease-fire in 2002, 2006 has seen a dramatic upsurge in violence following LTTE suicide attacks on Sri Lankan naval targets in Habarana and Galle in April, part of its campaign for the creation of a separate Tamil state. Since then, retaliatory air strikes and fierce fighting in the Tamil-dominated east of the country have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and the displacement of thousands of others.
“We stand with the government and the people of Sri Lanka in resisting terrorism,” Boucher said. “We also believe that at this moment it is important for both sides to do what they can to lower the temperature, to cease hostilities that have occurred in recent weeks and months. In the end, people have to understand that the only real solution to their grievances is going to be a political one.”
Both sides need to take positive steps to reverse this “negative momentum” away from peace, he said.
“We think it is important to discuss all the issues. It is also important to begin a process that can lead to a serious negotiation, and eventually, to a political solution with legitimate interest of all the communities: of Tamils, of Muslims, of Sinhalese,” which he emphasized could be accommodated within “a unitary Sri Lanka.”(See related article.)
As part of this process, Boucher also emphasized the need for increased attention to respecting human rights on all sides and called for investigations of reported abuses.
“We do believe the international community can have a role in helping – whether it is with expertise, such as the Australian forensic team that is here helping with the investigation, or whether it is with the basic monitoring mechanism to observe the situation, to encourage progress and look at where that progress could be made better – that is the kind of commission that we are trying to put together with the government,” he said.
To this end, Boucher highlighted the positive role played by the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donor Group, Japan’s Yasushi Akashi and Norway’s Hanssen-Bauer, in working with Colombo toward creating an international human rights commission. (See related article.)
“We think now is the moment, with the events in the coming days, with the new round of negotiations, where we can make a start in the right direction,” Boucher said. “That is our hope and that is what we are trying to help achieve, but it’s going to require determination, good will and an effort from people throughout this island.”
A transcript of Boucher’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)