Ambassador Lunstead's response of 17 January 2006

[TamilNet, Monday, 23 January 2006, 01:03 GMT]
Group response by US Ambassador issued on 17 January 2006 for the many communications he received after his speech to American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo, 10 January 2006.

Dear Friends

I have received many communications regarding the speech I gave at the American Chamber of Commerce last week - so many that I do not have any time to respond individually to each one. So I hope you will forgive this group response.

Let me first make several points about US policy towards Sri Lanka:

  • The US believes there is no military solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic problem -only a political solution.
  • Sri Lankan Tamils have legitimate grievances which must be addressed in any solution.
  • The only practical way to address them is through some type of devolution of power.

The political process which began with the ceasefire in 2002 offered great hope to settle this issue. Unfortunately that process foundered, for a number of reasons. Some blame lies with successive governments in Colombo and with other political forces in the South; some blame also lies with the LTTE.

Some have complained about my comments regarding the LTTE. However, I do not see how the factual nature of these comments can be denied.

  • The LTTE prevented Tamils in the North and East from voting in the November 2005 Presidential election. This was not a spontaneous decision by Tamils. Rather, it was enforced by the LTTE, a fact observed by election monitors from our own Mission and from the EU. This deprived Tamils of their political rights.
  • The LTTE, beginning in the period before the elections, and in an enhanced mode since the election, has flagrantly violated the ceasefire. LTTE actions include: the assassination of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar, numerous claymore mine attacks, and the recent suicide attack against a Sri Lankan Navy vessel.

The Government of Sri Lanka also has obligations, of course. As the US and the other Co-Chairs have noted several times, most recently in Brussels in December, the Government must act to prevent paramilitary groups from carrying out violent acts. The Government must also ensure that its forces act properly at all times. We have made these points both publicly and privately.

In my speech I mentioned the modest US government military assistance program in Sri Lanka. As I said, the purpose of this program is not to encourage a return to war, but to make a return to peace more likely, by making it clear that a war will be more costly and unsuccessful.

One writer asked me why there were no USAID programs in the North and East. This is untrue. Since shortly after the ceasefire, USAID has been running numerous programs throughout the North and East, through USAID offices in Trincomalee and Ampara. These programs are a direct result of the peace process and are intended to show the benefits of that process. If war breaks out again, they will have to end. This is part of a larger pattern. Since the ceasefire, multilateral agencies--like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank--and bilateral donors have initiated a number of programs in the North and East. If there is progress onpeace, these programs can continue and expand. If there is a return to war, they will end.

As I said in my speech, this is a crucial time for Sri Lanka. If the LTTE continues its provocative actions, we may see a return to outright war -- in which everyone will suffer.

There is always a chance for a change for the better, however. As the US has made clear many times, if the LTTE renounces terrorism in word and deed, US policy towards the LTTE can change. The Government of Sri Lanka also must take serious steps to make peace possible.

Many people saw only the press reports of my speech, and not the entire text. If you have not read the entire text, I have attached a copy. The theme of the speech is in its title: "Peace and Prosperity." We continue to believe that these two goals are achievable in Sri Lanka, and that they will benefit all Sri Lankans. The Tamils of Sri Lanka, who have suffered the most, will benefit the most.

As I said earlier, both parties--the Government and the LTTE--share the blame for the lack of progress in the peace process and the slide towards renewed fighting, and both must take positive steps to reverse that trend.

With hopes for an end to the fighting and for a better future for all Sri Lankans, I am

Sincerely yours,
Jeff Lunstead


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