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US – India Alliance Puts Pressure On Sri Lanka

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 12 February 2012 13:27 No Comment]

Pressure on the government is mounting ahead of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions on the 27th with India showing a likelihood of supporting US moves to present a resolution on Sri Lanka to the Council.

Several key US government officials are visiting the country ahead of the HRC sessions when the US is to move a resolution on Sri Lanka.

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, Hillary Clinton, Ranjan Mathai, Robert O. Blake and Maria Otero

The motion is to call on Sri Lanka to take more concrete actions towards reconciliation and especially, addressing the accountability issue and implementing the recommendations put forward by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

In an interesting turn of events, a senior Indian government official was last week in the US discussing several issues ranging from sanctions on Iran and other issues related to South Asia including US engagement in the UN.

Indian External Affairs Secretary Ranjan Mathai was on an official tour in the US last week where he met with several key officials from the US State Department on Wednesday (8) and Thursday (9).

US State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland referring to Mathai’s meeting with US State Department officials said, “The conversations included virtually every topic on the bilateral and multilateral agendas with India, including our joint co-operation to combat terrorism and violent extremism, defense co-operation, planning for the upcoming Strategic Dialogue, important civil nuclear cooperation, shared energy security interests, regional and economic integration along the New Silk Road, joint interests in Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East and our engagement at the UN and in multilateral fora.”

The government however believes that Mathai’s meeting with Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero, who is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka today (12), would have focused greatly on Sri Lanka.

Following her visit to Sri Lanka, Otero is to travel to New Delhi, India on the 14th and although details of the discussion between Mathai and Otero in the US were immediately not known, her trip to New Delhi after meetings in Sri Lanka is a clear indication of the focus of both countries.

Otero is to visit Sri Lanka on a two-day tour with US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake.

MR To Meet Blake?

Under Secretary Otero and Assistant Secretary Blake will meet with government officials and attend a luncheon hosted by External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and also meet with civil society representatives, youth groups and political leaders.

Blake is scheduled to meet representatives from the TNA on the 12th afternoon.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is to return to the country on the 12th from an official visit to Pakistan is expected to meet with the US officials.

External Affairs Ministry sources however observed that the meeting between the President and Blake was yet to be finalised.

It was earlier believed that the President might not meet with Blake or any US official visiting the country, leaving the matter for Minister Peiris to attend to.

However, it had later been deliberated that it would be “good” if the President met Blake.

Rajapaksa is also scheduled to travel to Singapore soon after his return to the country.

Minister Peiris who is currently on a visit to the Middle East is to return to the country on the 12th.

The government is yet to decide on Peiris’ visit to the US following an “invitation” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton in a hard-hitting letter sent to Minister Peiris had stated “…while our decision about the March session has been made to help guide our thought on future action, I would like to invite you to Washington DC in March to discuss your plans to move ahead on reconciliation, accountability and provincial elections in the Northern Province. The visit would provide a valuable opportunity for you to meet with think tanks of our Congress and brief the government’s intention and action plan.”

“The government wants to see what the US government officials have to say before deciding on Minister Peiris’ visit to the US,” a senior External Affairs Ministry source said.

The government is now waiting to see the mood of the US government before making a visit to the country.

During her visit, Ambassador Otero is to focus on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka as well as the action taken by the government with regard to concerns  raised by the international community.

Assistant Secretary Blake is to discuss the recommendations made in the LLRC report.

Blake has already given a hint of the US government’s approach to the LLRC report and its recommendations.

Blake stated that the LLRC has laid the groundwork for continued reconciliation following Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long conflict with the terrorist group LTTE.

“The LLRC offers a very promising way forward to help Sri Lanka become again the island of peace and prosperity,” Blake said.

“The US will support reaching those goals,” he said.

Blake made these comments during the celebrations of Sri Lanka’s 64th Independence Day held at the University of the District of Columbia on February 4, 2012.

“The President, Parliament and the Government of Sri Lanka have begun a range of programs to help heal the wounds of the conflict, return those who fought in it to civil society, and reconcile the differences the conflict has left,” Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US Jaliya Wickramasuriya had said.

Government’s Failure

During his previous visit to Sri Lanka last year, Blake said, “If it (a national inquiry) is not a credible process, there will be pressure for some sort of alternate mechanism”. When he met President Rajapaksa and ministers in 2011, he had noted that Washington would wait for the release of the final report of the LLRC before passing judgment.

The LLRC report was released last December and the Rajapaksa administration has failed to implement the recommendations of the report despite calls by opposition political parties for its implementation.

The TNA has continuously called on the government to implement the recommendations and the main opposition UNP has also said it would support the government to implement the recommendations.

The TNA continues to call for accountability and meaningful devolution of power to solve the ethnic issue.

TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and MP M. A. Sumanthiran expressed these views during a luncheon meeting on Tuesday (7) with US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen J. Rapp.

The TNA members explained the lack of accountability and the need to address these issues  through an independent inquiry.

They have noted that the independent inquiry should not be carried out locally.

Rapp had used the opportunity as a means of gathering information before he visited Jaffna and Mullaitivu before ending his four-day visit.

The US Ambassador also met with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Minister Peiris where the discussion had once again been focused on accountability and steps taken by the government to address the issue.

Envoys of the Obama administration are focused on putting pressure on Sri Lanka to expedite the reconciliation process while addressing issues of accountability and implementing the LLRC recommendations.

It is in this backdrop that President Rajapaksa in his address to the nation on Independence Day stated that the government has implemented recommendations of the LLRC.

This statement received much criticism from many opposition parties including the TNA that claimed the government has failed to implement even one recommendation.

The government is now trying to use the LLRC report to get political party representatives to participate in its proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC).

Senior government spokespersons when asked about the delay in implementing the LLRC recommendations said that it could be implemented through a dialogue with all political parties in the proposed PSC.

Focus on the LLRC Report

Along with the push for the reconciliation process, local politicians as well as the international community are focused on the LLRC report.

The Rajapaksa administration after maintaining that the LLRC was its internal mechanism to address concerns raised by the international community pledged to implement its recommendations to solve issues of concern.

It was the static response given by the administration when the report by the panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary General was made public.

Last week saw countries like South Africa, Britain and Australia making statements on the LLRC, its shortcomings and the need by the government to implement its recommendations.

The South African government while stating that the LLRC should have addressed in detail accountability issues, has called for the immediate implementation of the recommendations made.

The British government has also noted that the LLRC had failed to address some issues.

British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka John Rankin has said that while the real test for the government was in implementing the LLRC recommendations, the British government still felt that an independent and impartial investigation is required in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the Australian Foreign Minister was last week criticised by the Australian Greens for his failure to respond to the LLRC report.

The pressure continues to build up on the government to implement the LLRC recommendations.

A Joint Mechanism

The UNP and the TNA last week held a discussion on the recommendations of the LLRC report and the possibility of forming a joint mechanism to implement the recommendations.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and parliamentarians Lakshman Kiriella and Mangala Samaraweera represented the UNP while the TNA side was headed by leader R. Sampanthan and included MPs Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan.

The meeting took place in the parliament premises.

The discussion was mainly focussed on Wickremesinghe explaining to the TNA, the UNP’s stance on the LLRC report, which he tried to announce in a special statement in parliament on Friday (10). After Wickremesinghe was not permited to table the document in parliament, it was released to the media.

The TNA members have expressed disappointment in the delay in the whole reconciliation process and the lack of confidence in the government’s commitment towards finding a political solution.

The UNP had then proposed that a joint mechanism be set up between the two parties and include other opposition political parties in order to get the LLRC recommendations implemented.

The TNA, which had earlier planned on traveling to India this month to express its woes with regard to the dialogue with the government, has now decided against making the trip, at least for the time being.

Nevertheless, the party has managed to raise its concerns with the international community, especially with the visiting US envoys.

Appeal against Ruling

An appeal is to be filed in a higher court against the ruling by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which last week dismissed the lawsuit against a former General of the Sri Lanka Army.

The relatives of two Sri Lankan Tamils alleging war crimes filed the case.

The case against Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Major General Shavendra Silva was dismissed on the grounds of diplomatic immunity granted to Silva.

The plaintiffs, the widow of a senior LTTE terrorist leader Colonel Ramesh, Vathsala Devi and Seetharam Sivam have alleged that their relatives were tortured and wrongfully killed by the Sri Lankan military. The rights group known as SPEAK has accused the Sri Lankan government of refusing to acknowledge its responsibility for any violations of international law, even in the face of the United Nations’ conclusion that its wartime conduct “represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law.”

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