'LTTE, IRA have political goals' - British Minister

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 29 January 2003, 15:39 GMT]
British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien said Wednesday that the global war against terrorism may be long drawn out because the Al Qaeda has an agenda with which there cannot be negotiations, unlike the LTTE and the IRA who have political goals. He was speaking on 'New Threats to International Security' at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo Wednesday.

Mike O'BrienThe talk was followed by a question and answer session for about forty minutes. Questions were posed to the minister on a variety of issues. A prominent member of the audience made repeated calls during the session, urging that UK should pressure the LTTE to disarm, de-militarise. Minister O'Brien, however, declined to comment on the issue raised by the person but said it is a matter to be decided between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers during the course of the peace talks.

Another member of the audience pointed out that only one side of the story was being presented by the most questioners and asked the minister to understand that it is the military strength of the LTTE that had impelled the government to negotiate and that the Tamil people do not want the LTTE to disarm at this stage.

The talk was arranged by the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.

The following is the full text of the British Minister’s speech.

“It is particularly appropriate for me to be making this speech here in Sri Lanka, where the peace process in your country is a sign of hope in troubled times. Let me begin with a few words on the Sri Lankan peace process itself. Few countries have had to deal with ethnic division and terrorism on the scale which this country has. Overcoming the legacy of years of strife will not be easy but the commitment of both parties to the peace process appears to be impressive. There does seem to be a genuine resolve to overcome the years of distrust.

As we have found in the UK, following a quarter of a century of terrorism in Northern Ireland, overcoming distrust is difficult. The important thing is to create a peace process so that whether both parties trust each other or not, they can trust the process itself. We were helped, as you have been, by foreign assistance. Former American Senator George Mitchell was recognised as an independent architect of a process which both Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland could trust. Here, the Norwegians have played a helpful role as an independent facilitator, encouraging both parties. I applaud their work and, of course, your own in pursuing the path of peace. Turning now to my subject, I want to talk about the new threats that the international community as a whole must deal with. In the next decade the international community faces two key threats. Firstly, international terrorism, and secondly, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and particularly Rogue States with weapons of mass destruction. If a link is formed between the two, our nightmare could be terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. These threats disturb the balance of our societies between order and freedom and they introduce a potential new dimension of chaos to international affairs. Added to the problem, we have the growing issue of state failure. In some ways, the past five decades have been one of the most stable and prosperous periods in history. The international institutional architecture established at the end of the Second World War has survived well. But dictatorial regimes in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorist groups and states at risk of internal collapse have one thing in common: they are often not susceptible to diplomacy alone. The international community needs to find a way to deal with these threats robustly, while also addressing the context in which they have developed.

Both the UK and Sri Lanka have faced the experience of fighting terrorism on their own soil. From this experience we know the destructive power of terrorist activity and the way it can divide a society. Our experiences have also made it clear that violence cannot solve internal differences. It only leads to a cycle of mistrust and further violence. Differences, and conflict, are unavoidable aspects of any society; but the best way to solve these is through negotiation, dialogue, and mutual respect. The terrible events of 11 September 2001 showed that terrorists are increasingly prepared to countenance vast numbers of civilian casualties. The Al Qaeda terrorists are a distinct phenomenon. Unlike the IRA or even the LTTE, who have political goals, Al Qaeda seems to have an agenda with which we cannot negotiate. They want the imposition of a distorted version of Sheria law on societies which do not want it. This is a red line which we cannot cross. We cannot negotiate with this group. We are therefore faced with a long drawn out counter terrorist war on an international scale which may last a decade. To win this war on terrorism we need to have an unprecedented level of international cooperation. We need to cut off terrorist funds; restrict terrorist movements; and prosecute the terrorists themselves. This will be a tough task but we must do it. We cannot compromise. Destroying bases in Afghanistan is clearly part of this agenda. Iraq addresses the issue of proliferation but we must also be aware of the potential link to terrorism. An increasing number of countries possess, or are seeking to acquire, nuclear weapons. And there are countries that insist on retaining, or developing, chemical and biological warfare capabilities. This has created a double problem. First, there is a risk that rival nation states will use their weapons of mass destruction against each other, either in a calculated attempt to advance their interests or, more likely, through miscalculation. Second, there is a risk that weapons of mass destruction will be transferred from nation states to international terrorist organisations. This could happen as a result of a conscious decision by a rogue government. But it could also follow a breakdown of state structures or, simply, by the result of actions by individuals with access to those weapons.

I know the prospect of international action to disarm the Iraqi regime by force concerns people in Britain and Sri Lanka alike. But Saddam Hussein must comply with the series of UN resolutions. So far, as Dr Hans Blix told the UN Security Council on Monday, Iraq has failed to comply. The consequences of a failure of nerve to deal with the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are serious. The world would then have emboldened a dictator who had previously shown no mercy in using chemical weapons. If he develops nuclear weapons, other would-be proliferators will get the message that UN Resolutions can be ignored; international law will not be enforced; and other countries can develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in the hands of large numbers of countries – some run by tyrants – with a lack of effective control over the weapons – would make the world a much more dangerous place. I hope that Saddam Hussein will comply with UN Resolution 1441. If we disarm him, the message will be that UN Resolutions matter; international law will be enforced; and other dictators should not develop nuclear weapons. Iraq is the prime example of a regime which despises democratic values and threatens all the things democracies like ours believe in – freedom, the rule of law, and the right of people to choose their governments. Saddam’s record of murderous suppression of political dissent places him alongside history’s worst dictators. The punishment for criticising Saddam is to have your tongue cut out. It is an understatement to say that his regime has no respect for human rights. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 presents Iraq with a pathway to peace through the UN inspections rather than force. The aim of the UK, shared by the international community, is a stable, law-abiding Iraq. An Iraq which is no longer in possession of weapons of mass destruction. An Iraq which will pose no threat to peace and international security. And, not least, an Iraqi people freed of terror and tyranny and able to enjoy the benefits of democracy and human rights. I know that your government fully supports this objective and I welcome the Foreign Ministry’s clear statement of yesterday that Iraq had fully to comply with United Nations Resolution 1441. Like the Sri Lankan government the British government too has highlighted a number of crucial questions that remain unanswered by the Iraqi regime. The time to answer; the time to comply is now.

We must ensure that the duties imposed by the UN's counter-terrorism law – UNSCR 1373 – are vigorously enforced in every Member State. The work done by the UN's Counter Terrorism Committee must be further developed to bring the international community to a set of minimum standards to which we all agree in the fight against terrorism. And we have to expose the connection between the terrorists who respect no rules, and the states that respect no rules. It is the leaders of rogue states who set the example: brutalise their people; celebrate violence; provide a haven for terrorists to operate; and, worse than that, through their chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, again in defiance of all rules, provide a tempting arsenal for terrorists to use. International cooperation is vital. The UK is working with a range of countries to help them develop their capacity to deter, detain or disrupt terrorist groups. The UK is involved in two seminars which will run this year in Sri Lanka, to assist with counter terrorism legislation and the regulatory framework. Tackling terrorism also requires action against the breeding grounds of terrorism. As we saw in Afghanistan, state failure all too often allows terrorist groups to establish bases for their operations. The problem of state failure is not going to disappear. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, last year only 1 of 24 conflicts worldwide was, as it were, a classic war, between functioning states. In contrast, over the past decade it is estimated that wars within and amongst failed states have killed about 8 million people, most of them civilians, and displaced another 4 million. There is an urgent case for concerted international action, to tackle these failing states and where possible rebuild them. The rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s underlines the dangers of turning a blind eye to state failure. We need to respond to the dangers by developing a more coherent approach which draws on all of the assets at our disposal, from aid and trade incentives and humanitarian support to military intervention. Many of the tools are already there. At Monterey in March and at Johannesburg last month, the world community built on the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty among the world’s most disadvantaged people. Together with the WTO’s Doha Round, we have within our grasp a new era of sustainable economic growth and prosperity, a stable political future for the developing world and an unprecedented opportunity to eradicate the problem of state failure. I saw for myself the consequences of conflict when I visited Nepal in October last year, and its effect on what was once a peaceful and democratic nation. Britain and Nepal have extremely long-standing ties and we fully support the struggle against the Maoist insurgency. The Maoists must be made to realise that this is war they cannot win and that the only way forward is through peaceful negotiation. We believe that the Nepalese government went to great lengths to ensure a conducive atmosphere for the three rounds of peace talks in 2001. We will continue to encourage both sides to make every effort to achieve a solution which will result in the renunciation of violence and bring the Maoists back into the political mainstream. Only then will Nepal achieve the prosperity which its people need and deserve.

Addressing the root causes of terrorism will require sustained international engagement over the long term. Much of this work ties in with the UK’s broader foreign policy and development objectives. Well before the events of 11 September, the UK was actively engaged in working to ensure that the benefits of globalisation were distributed equitably, to improve respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law and to promote democracy and good governance. All these are values that our two countries share. In Sri Lanka, addressing the root causes of the conflict must include encouraging respect for everybody’s human rights, and ensuring that any settlement is representative of the aspirations of all communities. It also includes delivering effective development assistance to all parts of the country which have suffered from the conflict: the South as well as the North and East. I am sure that the UK’s assistance can play its part in Sri Lanka’s prosperity and development.

The Sri Lanka peace process holds a lesson for the world: that even long-lasting conflicts can be resolved if both sides have the courage to put bitterness and mistrust behind them, and find the flexibility and generosity of spirit to reach a compromise which can satisfy all sides. We must not be complacent or naively optimistic: the peace process has a long way to go. But if all parties continue to act in a constructive and patient way, there is no reason that a negotiated settlement cannot be achieved. I hope that British support can, in however small a way, play a part in ensuring that Sri Lanka will continue to be a sign of hope for the rest of the world, as we attempt to meet the new challenges of international security.


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