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Reaping what they sowed: former US diplomats write to SL President

[TamilNet, Friday, 23 January 2009 17:20 No Comment]

Six former US ambassadors served in Colombo since 1989 have written a letter in their personal capacity to Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, expressing their deep concern about internal threats destabilizing ‘democracy’ in Sri Lanka. They were particularly upset over the assassination of the Editor of Sunday Leader, Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge. "The civilized world has to appreciate these diplomats voicing for a bold, sane and humane journalist," said a political commentator based in Colombo, adding however that their letter is an "open confession of the reactionary premises taken by them and by their government in the last two decades, which in fact externally contributed to the destruction of the substance of democracy in the island, retaining only a brittle shell that is crumbling now."

"We have all, at different times and in different ways, made it clear that we believed the goals and tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were unacceptable, and that the Government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a difficult but necessary fight against terrorism. We have all supported and argued for United States assistance to Sri Lanka in that struggle," said the diplomats in their letter.

"It is an open affidavit," observed the political commentator, adding that it reveals how these diplomats and their government ignored the norms of democracy by not recognizing the spontaneous nationalism of a people struggling against ethnic oriented oppression. "They sabotaged it citing the LTTE, but in truth wanted to protect the Colombo-centric majoritarianism for their geopolitical concessions. We have never seen them advocating appropriate political solutions. It is this encouragement given by them to the ‘dark side of democracy’ that in fact destroyed democracy in the island of Sri Lanka."

What is self-explanatory to the ideological orientation of the diplomats, according to the commentator, is another of their confession: "Fighting an unconventional war against a terrorist enemy is a difficult task, and the sad truth is that it almost always results in some brutal and illegal acts. This is as true of our country as it is of Sri Lanka."

In a lighter vein, the commentator who didn’t wish to be named, observed that in the current world of deconstruction, where villains and heroes are together, it is difficult to say who are the terrorists and who are not. But, at least what is emerging out for certain is that the paradigm of the politics of terrorism has become the laughing stock of civilization.

The six ambassadors who wrote this letter are Marion Creekmore (1989-92), Teresita Schaffer (1992-95), A. Peter Burleigh (1995-97), Shaun Donnelly (1997-2000), Ashley Wills (2000-03) and Jeffrey Lunstead (2003-06).

Full text of the letter follows:

"We are all former United States Ambassadors to Sri Lanka, but we are writing in our personal capacities. Our service in Sri Lanka stretches for over 15 years, and we have seen good times and hard times in the country. We all have great respect and affection for Sri Lanka and its people. We have known you at different points in your career, and we all acknowledge your love for your country and your desire to see it at peace.
"We have all, at different times and in different ways, made it clear that we believed the goals and tactics of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were unacceptable, and that the Government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a difficult but necessary fight against terrorism. We have all supported and argued for United States assistance to Sri Lanka in that struggle.

"It is for all of these reasons that we are now so upset by developments in Sri Lanka, the most recent of which was the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. We fear that, even as Sri Lanka is enjoying military progress against the LTTE, the foundations of democracy in the country are under assault.

"The killing of Wickrematunge has prompted this letter, but there have been many previous incidents in which the rights of individuals and the media have been violated.

"Mr. President, we speak frankly because in our dealings with you we have always found you to have an open mind and to respect the truth. Some have suggested that these events have been carried out not by elements of the government, but by other forces hoping to embarrass the government.

"We do not find such arguments credible. We are familiar with your history as a defender of those whose rights were threatened by the government. We assume, therefore, that if government forces are carrying out these acts, they are acting without your permission and knowledge. We believe it is imperative that these actions stop, and that those who have carried them out be prosecuted.

"Fighting an unconventional war against a terrorist enemy is a difficult task, and the sad truth is that it almost always results in some brutal and illegal acts. This is as true of our country as it is of Sri Lanka. The important thing is that the country’s leadership not condone these acts, and that an atmosphere is set from the top that they will not be accepted, and that those who commit them will be held to account.

"We urge you to take steps to reestablish accountability and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Investigations have been promised before but have been futile. At times government officials have not appeared diligent, as happened in the investigation of the killing of NGO workers assisted by the International Eminent Persons Group.

‘It is crucial that an investigation now not follow that same fruitless path. It must also be made clear to members of the security forces that discipline will be enforced and violators will be brought to justice. Only you can provide the leadership and clear direction that will make this happen. We have seen before the positive results that such leadership can have, for example, when the decision to issue receipts for all detained persons dramatically reduced the number of disappearances.

"Sri Lanka has gone through difficult times, but its democratic system has always persevered. Neither the LTTE nor assaults by other radical forces have been able to destroy it. It would be a tragedy if it were destroyed now, not from without, but from within.

"We intend to make this letter public after you have received it."

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