November 21st, 2006 15:26 EST
International Donors Condemn Sri Lanka Cease-Fire Violations
Washington – Members of an international contact group working to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) expressed alarm at the rising violence in Sri Lanka, condemned both sides for recent violations of the 2002 cease-fire agreement, and called on them to commit to a structured and sustained peace process.
The co-chairs of the 2003 Tokyo Donors’ Conference on Sri Lanka – Japan, Norway, the European Union and the United States – reconvened in Washington November 21 to discuss the deteriorating security situation in the island nation and issued a statement condemning “the continued and systematic cease-fire violations by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.”
In particular, they condemned “the LTTE for initiating hostilities from heavily populated areas and the government of Sri Lanka for firing into such vulnerable areas and killing and wounding civilians.”
Clashes between government forces and LTTE rebels in northern and eastern Sri Lanka have killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands since violence flared up in August.
The co-chairs called on both sides “to respect international humanitarian law and set aside demilitarized zones to protect internally displaced persons.”
The group also called for the opening of all land and sea routes. The government closure of the A-9 highway to the Tamil-dominated Jaffna Peninsula has been a key sticking point in efforts to restart peace talks. The road closures also have prevented international aid organizations from delivering humanitarian assistance to the victims of the fighting. The co‑chairs called on both parties to facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid.
Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim welcomed the results of an October meeting in Geneva between representatives of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While that meeting produced no major breakthroughs, the two sides agreed to continue discussing measures for a sustained cease-fire and ultimately a political solution to the conflict.
The co-chairs said a political settlement must accommodate “the legitimate interests and aspirations of all communities, including the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities.”
Solheim said it is up to the two parties to achieve peace. “We can support them, but it is their responsibility to make peace,” he said.
Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi noted, however, that the donor countries have considerable leverage with the parties through their financial assistance. He said Japan would review the appropriate mix of incentives and disincentives to encourage the government to seek “imaginative as well as realistic offers of negotiation with LTTE.” He added that Japan, unlike many countries, has not severed its relations with the LTTE and has influence with that group as well, again through aid deliveries.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns reaffirmed the U.S. position that the LTTE is a terrorist organization responsible for considerable bloodshed and that the Sri Lankan government has a right to protect the country’s stability, security and territorial integrity. But he added: “There are times when a government takes actions, and we have to speak out because we are in opposition to those actions. There have been, as you know, a number of incidents over the last several months that have given us a great deal of concern about the use of military power against civilians and against aid workers.”
He said the United States urged the Sri Lankan government to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate those incidents and hold the responsible parties accountable. He said the government has agreed to do so.
Tamil rebels have been fighting the Sri Lankan government since the 1970s in a bid to establish an autonomous region for ethnic Tamils in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The conflict has claimed an estimated 64,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The joint statement of the co-chairs of the Donors’ Conference is available at the State Department Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)