Foreign Minister's unsettling breakfast

[TamilNet, Friday, 02 October 1998, 04:34 GMT]
The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar had an acrimonious question and answer session at the Asia Society in New York last week, according to informed sources. The Foreign Minister was in the US for the opening of the UN General Assembly, and spoke at a breakfast meeting at the Asia Society in one of a regular series of talks by Asian foreign ministers.

At the meeting, Mr. Kadirgamar had delivered a presentation dominated by SAARC's achievements with surprisingly minor comments on the civil war in Sri Lanka, said the sources, following which he had answered questions from the audience on issues specific to Sri Lanka.

kadirgamar_lakshman-p.gifOne question that reportedly took the Minister -and much of the audience - by surprise was regarding the Chemmani mass graves. Some of the participants were unaware of mass graves issue in Sri Lanka's north, said sources.

The minister himself had made no reference to the graves in his speech, even though he had begun his talk by saying that the Jaffna library, the rebuilding of which has been heavily publicised by the government, had become "a symbol of hope."

One of the attendees had asked the Minister to outline the steps his government planned to take now that a Sri Lanka Army soldier had confessed to the existence of mass graves of up to 400 people at Chemmani in Jaffna.

The Minister had reportedly responded that a forensic team was expected to visit the grave site at some point in the future and that the case is being looked into by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Sri Lankan CID.

When the Minister was told that 96% of the 50,000 civilian deaths in the war were those of Tamils, mostly killed by aerial bombing and shelling by the Sri Lankan military, Mr. Kadirgamar had reportedly asserted that no bombs had been dropped on civilians since 1995.

When it was pointed out to the Minister that in 1995, after the bombing of St. Peter and Paul Church at Navaly which killed 165 civilians, the Minister himself had warned the International Committee of Red Cross over leaking the news of the incident to the international community, Mr.Kadirgamar had become seemingly "flustered" at this, said the sources.

The Minister had then reacted by saying that particular bombing had not been a direct strike on the Church and that he had merely wanted the ICRC to work through his ministry, said the sources.

The Minister had repeatedly challenged the questioner that his [questioner's] information was "old" and that he should visit Jaffna himself and see how things have become "normal," said sources.

According to the sources, the questions simply referred to the bombing of Tamil civilians at large (i.e. in the North-East), but the Minister, perhaps inadvertently, assumed Jaffna to be the focus.

Among other questions related to the conflict, an American university professor inquired about the possibility of a third party mediation in resolving the "civil war" between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils.

The Minister had said that the conflict was not a civil war, but terrorism, and had stated that there is no room for third party mediation.

An executive member of the Asia Society had wondered how much the placing of the LTTE on the State Department list has helped reduce the flow of funding to the organisation.

The Minister had said that he could not quantify the amount, but said that the LTTE has taken a serious note of it, perhaps referring to the legal challenge to this listing undertaken by the LTTE, said the sources.


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