Feature Article

“Avoid unitary, avoid states” - United States ambassador

[TamilNet, Saturday, 22 September 2007, 16:10 GMT]
Addressing a seminar on "Sri Lanka: the Way Forward," in Colombo on Friday, organized by Fullbright Association, the U.S. Ambassador for Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, categorically stated that Sri Lanka's conflict cannot be won by military means. He said whatever the Sri Lankan government achieved in terms of military victories in the last several months, were merely "tactical" successes. The Ambassador who didn't want to mince words, cautioned the Colombo government against possible failures, hoped on All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and harped on development especially in the East, but dodged words when it came to the political model for resolving Sri Lanka's ethnic crisis.

U.S. Ambassador for Sri Lanka, Robert Blake
Ambassador Robert Blake Speaking at Seminar on "Sri Lanka: the Way Forward," Sponsored by the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission and the Fulbright Alumni Association of Sri Lanka. [Photo: U.S. Embassy in Colombo]
The Ambassador observed, that the Colombo government faces significant risks if it fails to seize its opportunity in the East. He was referring to orderly transition from military to civilian control, consultation with elected representatives of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities and control on the paramilitaries.

Mr. Blake also cautioned against resettlement and development plans that change the ethnic composition of Eastern districts, restrictions on livelihood, and slow economic development.

“We hope that all parties in the APRC will frame the final APRC proposals in a manner that avoids the use of divisive, emotive terms like 'federalism' and 'unitary',” the Ambassador said, urging negotiated settlement to achieve lasting peace for the crisis in Sri Lanka.

Full text of the transcript issued by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo:

Ambassador Robert Blake’s Remarks at Seminar on "Sri Lanka: the Way Forward"

September 21, 2007 - Galle Face Hotel, Colombo: "First let me express my thanks and commendation to the Fullbright Association both for arranging this seminar on “Sri Lanka: the Way Forward,” and for putting together such a glittering panel of speakers. Let me also thank Tissa for putting me first, because whatever I have to say will pale in comparison to the more erudite and lucid comments to follow!

"Since time is short and we Americans are known for not mincing our words, let me get right to the point on the topic at hand.

"The Government of Sri Lanka has achieved some important victories in the last several months. The expulsion of the LTTE from the East and the recent sinking of several LTTE ships carrying arms and other provisions mark important military successes.

"But these tactical successes should not tempt the Government to re-consider whether Sri Lanka’s conflict can be won by military means. It cannot.

"While the Government must continue to defend the nation against terrorist attacks, the way forward lies in continuing to lay the basis for a negotiated settlement that will meet the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities: Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese.

"A key part of that equation will be for the All Parties Representative Committee to complete its important work on a power-sharing proposal. From all accounts the APRC has made substantial progress.

"But difficult issues remain that will test whether all of Sri Lanka’s parties can work together to arrive at a just and equitable proposal that will receive the support of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. To achieve a compromise that will lead to lasting peace will require statesmanship from all sides and the will to put the national interest above narrow party interests.

"The governing coalition must demonstrate it represents the interests of all Sri Lankans, not just southern Sinhalese.

"The opposition UNP, which deserves much credit for the important steps it took to advance peace in 2002-2003, should, for the sake of all Sri Lankans, build on that record of achievement and work responsibly with the Government to ensure a successful APRC outcome.

"And we hope that all parties in the APRC will frame the final APRC proposals in a manner that avoids the use of divisive, emotive terms like “federalism” and “unitary.”

"Let me a say a word about the stabilization and reconstruction process in the east, which also is an important part of the way forward.

"Now that conflict has subsided in the east, the Government has a significant opportunity to stabilize and develop the east in a manner that would demonstrate to all Sri Lankans, but particularly Tamils and Muslims, that they have a bright future within a united Sri Lanka and that the Government is serious about ensuring their rights and providing opportunities equitably within a pluralistic state. In short, a successful transition in the east can be an important confidence builder and a building block for a future negotiation process.

"Conversely, the government faces significant risks if it fails to seize its opportunity in the east. Specifically, a failure to effect an orderly transition from military to civilian control, a failure to consult elected representatives of the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities on the development and other programs now being devised for the east, and a failure to rein in paramilitaries are all likely to destabilize the east and harden minority attitudes about prospects for negotiated settlement. Likewise, resettlement and development plans that change the ethnic composition of eastern districts, restrictions on access to means of livelihood, and slow economic development will produce similar negative effects.

"In conclusion, let me emphasize that a solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict is in reach. But it will require Sri Lanka’s government and parties to work together to put the national interest first. The United States, as a friend of Sri Lanka and a Co-Chair, stands ready to assist in any way we can."


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