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US Defence Attaché in Colombo ‘embarrasses’ Obama administration

[TamilNet, Sunday, 5 June 2011 08:39 No Comment]

“Remarks earlier this week by the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attaché at a conference in Colombo reflected his personal opinions. They do not reflect the policy of the United States Government,” said a spokesman for the U.S. State Department Friday. The comment came in a statement officially distancing the USA from remarks made this week by its own defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo at the controversial 3-day seminar organised by the Sri Lankan military to expound on its defeat of the LTTE. The USA had earlier declined Sri Lanka’s invitation to attend the controversial seminar. The latest US controversy has raised questions whether the US military officials were also playing a ‘personal counter-insurgency’ role in the Sri Lankan State’s war against Eezham Tamils.

The Sri Lankan defence ministry, in its final report on the seminar, had included the USA amongst those countries who attended. The US statement Friday reiterated Washington had declined the invitation.

The 3-day seminar, denounced by Human Rights Watch, as an effort to “whitewash” the mass killings of 40,000 or more Tamil civilians in the final few months of the war in 2009, was addressed by senior Sri Lankan political and military leaders.

According to Sri Lankan press reports, the US defence attaché in Colombo, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith, had in remarks to the seminar cast on Wednesday doubt on the sincerity and authenticity of offers by senior LTTE officials to lay down arms to end the war, which was then killing and maiming hundreds of Tamil civilians every day.

Several senior LTTE officials, including political officials P. Nadesan and S. Pulidevan, were shot dead in cold blood after surrendering in a deal brokered by international actors with the top Sri Lankan leadership.

The Island newspaper reported Thursday that Lt. Col. Smith had ‘spontaneously’ volunteered his opinion on LTTE official’s surrender – even though the question on the topic, by a retired Indian General, was in fact being directed to a Sri Lankan General who commanded troops in the final days of the war.

On Friday US swiftly distanced itself from the Lt. Col. Smith’s remarks, saying they did not reflect US policy.

The United States is “committed to ensuring that there is a credible accounting of, and accountability for, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka,” the spokesman for the State Department further said in his statement.

Following is the full text of the State Department’s press statement issued by Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner:

Remarks earlier this week by the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attaché at a conference in Colombo reflected his personal opinions. They do not reflect the policy of the United States Government. The United States declined invitations to participate in this conference, and our Defense Attaché attended to observe the proceedings as part of his normal duties.

The United States remains deeply concerned by the findings of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. We are committed to ensuring that there is a credible accounting of, and accountability for, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address the violations alleged in the report and to adopt the measures necessary to achieve national reconciliation and build a united, democratic, and peaceful Sri Lanka.

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