Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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An Open Letter to the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

Ambassador, as you are well aware, the peace process is built on the premise that both the parties, namely the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have entered into a Cease-fire Agreement (CFA) as equal partners. 


Dear Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead,

Re: Your address on 9th of January 2006, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka titled, Peace and Prosperity: US Policy Goals in Sri Lanka 2006.  

Your address was to the American Chamber of Commerce and, therefore, your main message was, appropriately, about the linkage between the future economic prosperity of Sri Lanka and the peace process, and the importance of business community in playing an active role in promoting the peace process.  You correctly said that peace and prosperity are complementary to each other and the “furtherance of peace is perhaps the single most important thing that can push Sri Lanka along the path to further prosperity.”

I appreciate your appeal to the business community to take an active role in both promoting the peace process and educating the country about the benefits of the processes’ success or the consequences of its failure.  I appreciate this because, during the recent presidential election campaign, both the ruling and the opposition parties failed to use that golden opportunity to educate the country on this aspect of the peace process.

However, some of the comments you have made during your address cast doubt on the policy the US is adopting about the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Ambassador, as you are well aware, the peace process is built on the premise that both the parties, namely the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have entered into a Cease-fire Agreement (CFA) as equal partners.  Therefore, anyone dealing with/trying to influence these two parties in relation to the CFA and the peace process should treat both the parties equally.  In this aspect, the very few comments you made during your address about the CFA and the escalation of violence were unwarranted and could only undermine further the peace process. Your comments are not going to help the parties to refrain from violence.

Ambassador, I need not tell a US Ambassador about the usual propaganda carried out by the parties when they are involved in a war/conflict.  We all have seen this very clearly in the recent wars/conflicts in the Middle-East.  Sri Lanka is not an exception to this.  Therefore, we have seen both parties to the Sri Lankan conflict doing this to various extents. The GoSL, being the elected government, is at an advantage in this process, having ready access to the government-controlled local media and to foreign governments.  The GoSL has used various incidents that have happened during the conflict to carry out false propaganda to demonise its enemy, as well as to cover up the gross human rights violations carried out by its security forces against the Tamil community.  I shall give you some recent examples to illustrate my argument.

When the former Foreign Minister Kadirgamar was assassinated the GoSL was quick to put the blame on the LTTE even before the inquiry began, and went on a propaganda spree in the Western capitols using its diplomats and managed to get a travel ban to EU countries imposed on that organisation. 

Please look at what has happened to these accusations.  The Australian Tamil businessman, Mr. Gnanakoon, who was arrested on the basis of confessions made by Mrs. Kadirgamar that he was involved with the LTTE in plotting this assassination, has been set free now by the courts due to the failure of the police to lay any charges against him.  He is now suing the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry and the Attorney General.  Similarly, two Tamil youths who were arrested as prime LTTE suspects involved in the assassination also have been ordered by the magistrate to be released as the prosecutors failed to produce any evidence to implicate them in the assassination.  At the same time no inquiry was held to find out who was responsible for the already accepted lapse in the security provided to the assassinated minister.  While it is widely accepted that this assassination was a contract killing carried out not without the help of the security forces, this assassination has been very efficiently used by the GoSL for its propaganda purpose. The Colombo diplomatic circle believed this propoganda and warned the LTTE.

The next case in point is how the GoSL tried to use the brutal murder of the five Tamil students in Trincomale on the 2nd of January 2006.  First, the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry let out the story that these students died of a grenade blast that they were trying to throw at the security forces in collaboration with the LTTE.  However, now the medical officer who carried out the post-mortem examination of the bodies, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission officials who visited the site of the incident and the magistrate who held the inquest, all have said that these victims have been shot through the head.  Dear Ambassador, did not the GoSL try to dupe you to believe their story first?  You have yet to condemn these brutal murders carried out by the security forces.

The last case is the latest incident, the story of a Navy Dvora gun boat alleged to have been sunk off the coast of Trincomale harbour by an LTTE suicide attack.  All that we have been told to believe is that a loud explosion was heard in the area and two injured sailors were rescued by fishermen.  Why have these two sailors not been shown in the media?  Why could divers not locate the sunken boat, although the exact location would have been known because of the presence of another Dvora in the vicinity according to the initial story we were told?   Why have none of the dead bodies of the 13 sailors, who were supposed to have perished in the incident, been recovered?  These are the questions to be asked by anyone before he/she decides to condemn the alleged perpetrators of this incident.

Ambassador, the ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe claims that he developed an “International Safety Net” (ISN) to take care of the LTTE if it walks away from the peace process.  The new President Rajapaksa also wanted to get similar assurances from the international community.  This is why he went to India first, but he failed to achieve his objective there.  Then he sent his FM Samaraweera to Washington, DC.  It seems that the US Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, was also sceptical of the GoSL's message.

Ambassador, when you decided to deviate from your main message to your business audience, you started by saying; “I have to take a moment here to congratulate the Government on its continued restraint, despite the recent provocative actions by the LTTE.” 

If you have been following the events in Sri Lanka closely, you would be aware that there were almost no killings in the NorthEast after the CFA, until a few LTTE political workers, including one of their top leaders, Kausalyan, were assassinated by the paramilitary personal operating from the security force’s camps.  Did the Embassy take a moment to congratulate the LTTE for the restraint they showed at that time?

Now, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has openly blamed these paramilitary forces for the violence in the NorthEast.  Within 24 hours of this statement by the SLMM, its office, situated very near a Sri Lankan security force’s camp, has been bombed in Batticaloa, showing the true colours of these paramilitary forces. 

The SLMM spokesperson, Helen Olafsdottir, has been quoted by Colombo’s “Sunday Leader” today as saying the following in an interview: "The [Sri Lanka] government claimed that it had nothing to do with this [Karuna] group (a paramilitary group) and was not aware of their existence. But when we visited the spot in the east and asked the Sri Lankan army where we could find Karuna, they told us where to go. So it was clear that the local army knew where he was."  This shows very clearly the involvement of the Sri Lankan security forces with the paramilitary forces.  

You went on to say that; “Similarly, the US calls on the LTTE to stop its violent activities and to return to the negotiating table with the Government of Sri Lanka in order to work towards a stable, permanent peace.”  Ambassador, this piece of advice would have sounded sweet to the ears of the Rajapakse regime. 

Have you thought about what the other party is doing in regard to 'returning to the negotiating table?' Why is the GoSL insisting that the talks have to be held in an Asian country?  If the GoSL is keen on returning to the negotiating table, do you think it would have created this situation?  It is not rocket science to understand who is blocking the LTTE from returning to the negotiating table.

You also have said that; “There can be a role for the LTTE in future development of Sri Lanka, but only if it returns to the peace table, renounces terrorism in word and deed and become a responsible participant in Sri Lanka’s future. And this will lead to a better life for the Tamils and all Sri Lankans in the North and East.”  Dear Ambassador, your statement sounds legitimate on face value. However, you know very well what happened to the P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management System), an arrangement worked out between the GoSL and LTTE to share the US$4.5 billion earmarked by the international community to rebuild the tsunami devastated NorthEast of Sri Lanka.  We need more than words to convince the Tamils now that the Tamils will ever be able to participate in Sri Lanka’s future development.

You went on to say that, “Let me be clear, our military assistance is not given because we anticipate or hope for a return to hostilities. We want peace. We support peace. And we will stand with the people of Sri Lanka who desire peace.” How can you assist one party to the conflict militarily, and help to bring in peace in Sri Lanka, without annihilating the other party?  You seem to have given the answer in your next statement.  “If the LTTE chooses to abandon peace, however, we want it to be clear, they will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military. We want the cost of a return to war to be high.”  It looks like that you and the US administration have picked up the “War for Peace strategy” from President Chandrika.

Ambassador, anyone will be encouraged by your statement towards the concluding stages of your address, if it is really genuine.  “The US will continue to support a strong, unified Sri Lanka that seeks peace and prosperity and that offers an atmosphere of respect and justice for all citizens regardless of religion and race. We will urge others in the International Community to do the same. We have stood with Sri Lanka through the peace process as one of the Co-chairs. We are standing with Sri Lanka through the rebuilding process from the tsunami.  And we want to stand with Sri Lanka as it crosses the threshold from a situation of “no war” to one of peace and moves from a platform of low economic growth to a launching pad of economic dynamism.” 

Dear Ambassador, if you and your administration are genuinely interested in real peace in Sri Lanka, you also would have made statements like those made by one of the other Co-chairs, Mrs Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations, European Commission, 3 days after you (12.01.06) addressed the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo. 

It is imperative that the government, other political parties and the Tamil Tigers heed the call of the people and join hands to arrest the spread of violence prevailing in the north and in the east. It would quite simply be a tragedy if the various leaders involved failed to meet this basic demand of the people. For this reason, the debate that has now started over the venue for reviewing the implementation of the ceasefire agreement hardly inspires confidence. The state of the ceasefire is so perilous that Sri Lanka can ill afford to waste time on talks about the venue for talks! For all who truly seek settlement through negotiation rather than war, surely they have more urgent priorities.”

Sri Lanka's political future lies solely in the hands of Sri Lanka’s leaders themselves. They have to come from considering the legitimate aspirations of all communities and designing a way to live together. This is a time for courage and difficult decisions and a time that will reveal the real intentions and level of commitment of those assuming leadership on both sides.

Dear Ambassador, I am sure you would have read the whole message of Mrs. Ferrero Waldner’s dated 12.01.06.  Tamils are yearning for peace more than anyone else.  But they want to live with peace and dignity like the Americans wanted when they were fighting for their own freedom.  Tamils expect the American administration to be impartial in dealing with the parties to the conflict and to make statements like those of Mrs Ferrero-Wladner that help to build peace, and not threatening statements that jeopardise peace by pushing the Tamils to a corner, never to return to the table you lay out.

Yours truly,