Rocca Urges Continuation of Sri Lankan Peace Negotiations

[TamilNet, Friday, 16 May 2003, 20:02 GMT]
Source: U.S Department of State Web Site: Washington File

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, speaking in Colombo on May 14 2000, noted that the Sri Lankan peace process has "moved from strength to strength" and that "for this record of dedication ... the people of Sri Lanka and their negotiators have my government's admiration and congratulations."


But Rocca also said the negotiations had suffered setbacks, and noted two current challenges that "are particularly worrying: one, the possibility that the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] may ignore the donor conference in Tokyo; two, the possibility that cohabitation quarrels will eclipse peace talk deliberations."

The assistant secretary urged the LTTE to participate in the Tokyo talks "in the best interest of the peace process, the Tamil people, and the Tigers themselves." She said that in each of her visits in Colombo she "shared the international community's fervent hope that a clear, consistent, and united Sri Lankan voice is heard at Tokyo."

Rocca was in Sri Lanka as part of a South Asian trip that took her to Colombo, Islamabad, Kabul, and New Delhi.

She said that she looked forward to a day when "peace replaces war" and the "dynamic relationship between us" can once again focus on "trade and other commercial activities; academic, cultural, and professional exchanges; and bilateral cooperation toward the resolution of South Asia's other issues."

"All of this becomes increasingly possible as your peace process goes forward," said Rocca.

Following is a transcript of Assistant Secretary Rocca's remarks in Colombo on May 14.

(begin transcript)

US EMBASSY, COLOMBO Press Office May 14, 2003

Ms. Christina Rocca U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Colombo, Sri Lanka May 14, 2003

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROCCA: It has been nearly one year since my first visit to this beautiful and fascinating country. I am grateful to everyone who has received me -- including President Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, and Foreign Minister Fernando -- for their warm welcome.

The months since my last visit have been momentous ones for this Island. The first anniversary of the ceasefire signed in February 2002 passed peacefully. Discussions between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were conducted in Thailand, Norway, and elsewhere. And the peace talks themselves moved from strength to strength. For this record of dedication to the process the people of Sri Lanka and their negotiators have my government's admiration and congratulations.

Indeed -- and as you know -- several officials from my government have visited Sri Lanka since you so warmly received me last August. Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, Deputy Trade Representative Jon Huntsman, Assistant Secretary of Commerce William Lash: all traveled to Sri Lanka to see your good-news story for themselves. ... to see your story and to make it clear that the United States strongly supports the effort to achieve peace in Sri Lanka.

As predicted, the peace process has been difficult. There have been setbacks as well as progress, and more of each can be expected. Indeed, as I speak, two challenges are particularly worrying: one, the possibility that the LTTE may ignore the donor conference in Tokyo; two, the possibility that cohabitation quarrels will eclipse peace talk deliberations.

-- The LTTE. I have, of course, not spoken to the LTTE, but my government's advice has been clear and consistent: it is in the best interest of the peace process, the Tamil people, and the Tigers themselves that the LTTE be at the table in Tokyo.

-- Cohabitation. I have spoken with figures both within and beyond government regarding a broad range of issues, including cohabitation. In each visit I have shared the international community's fervent hope that these quarrels be set aside so that a clear, consistent, and united Sri Lankan voice is heard at Tokyo.

In short, by now both sides know that the people of this beautiful country, and the international community beyond, insist that peace replace war, and reconciliation replace division.

The United States and Sri Lanka have enduring bonds of friendship, and as peace replaces war the broad and dynamic relationship between us returns to focus. Trade and other commercial activities; academic, cultural, and professional exchanges; bilateral cooperation toward the resolution of South Asia's other issues: all of this becomes increasingly possible as your peace process goes forward.

The beauty of this island, its fascinating and diverse culture, and the graciousness of its people have lured me back to Sri Lanka. Once again, thank you for the warm reception that I have received.

QUESTION: If the Tigers do not go to Tokyo, will Mr. Armitage also miss that conference?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: I think that at this point that would still be speculation. I just want to reiterate that we really hope that they will, that it's in the best interests of not only the LTTE, but the Tamil people and peace process itself.

QUESTION: Considering the state of the peace process at the moment and especially ... an absence of military conflict: no suicide bomb attacks and no bomb explosions. All the other acts of terrorism continue: abductions, recruitment of child soldiers, all those things continue. In this situation, would the State Department ... think in terms of the need for regime change in the Vanni.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: Let me just say that we aware of these breaches in the ceasefire on the part of the LTTE, and that the LTTE remains on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. In order for that situation to change, we call upon them to renounce violence, renounce all these activities, reject separatism, and honor democracy and human rights.

QUESTION: In retrospect, given the problems it's caused, do you think it was a mistake for the preparatory conference in Washington to go ahead with the exclusion of the LTTE. Do you think that maybe it should have happened somewhere else?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: No. On the contrary, the seminar in Washington showed the world's support for the peace process. We were very pleased with its outcome, and we think it was a good first step toward Tokyo.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the documentation from the President on ... the ceasefire violations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: No. I have not yet had a chance to review it. It is of great interest and we will be studying it closely.

QUESTION: Have you discussed it with the government, when you had meetings with the Prime Minister?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: My last meeting was with the President, so as I said, I haven't had a chance to review it....

QUESTION: What message can you give the President about the need for common spirit and cooperation in the government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: I will leave details of the discussion to the privacy of diplomatic conversation, but I do want to say that we are encouraging both sides to pull together, because a united voice is crucial in these peace talks. ... is critical for it to move forward successfully.

QUESTION: Could we envisage the possibility of Sri Lankans being associated at some level in the processes of post-war reconstruction of Iraq?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: I don't see any reason why not. There is a big process out there and we certainly encourage nations like Sri Lanka to participate....

QUESTION: Will the U.S. and the international community in relation to the disbursement of funds that are to be pledged in Tokyo ... will you set benchmarks for progress or will you let the parties have a free hand at the funds?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: I think that there will be certain benchmarks or certain steps that we would like to see accomplished as we move forward with reconstruction. I think adherence to basic democracy and human rights will probably be one of them. But I will leave the details of this to the conference in Tokyo.

QUESTION: You talked about cohabitation politics. Could tell us ... how you want them to have this common voice. Are you restricting this to the peace process, or are you looking for a broader cohabitation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: The cohabitation problems are really an internal matter ... and we are not getting involved in them other than to say that we really hope that they will not impede the peace process and that they will be able to move forward together.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) ... donated Coast Guard vessel....

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: We have all along been very supportive of the government of Sri Lanka, and we intend to continue to do so. Across the board, we have a good relationship in many areas and defense is one of them, and we hope to continue that.

QUESTION: There have been calls recently from (inaudible) and also from ... parliament for the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, the ceasefire monitors, to have a broader mandate, to bring in more countries. What is your view on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: I don't think we have position on that at this point yet. I think it is still too early.

QUESTION: How do you think that Dr. Balasingham's health complications will affect the peace process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY: We hope that he will recover quickly. We hope that they will be able to move forward either way. I understand that there are meetings taking place with the Norwegians, and we hope that the LTTE as such is committed to the process, and that it's not dependent on just one person.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

 

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