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US Marines will not stay any longer than wanted, says US Defence Secretary

[TamilNet, Monday, 17 January 2005, 10:03 GMT]
Visiting Deputy Defence Secretary of the United States of America, Paul Wolfowitz said in Colombo on Monday morning that the US Marine troops would not stay in Sri Lanka any longer than they were wanted. "We don't want to stay any longer than we are needed, most certainly not longer than we are wanted," he told both foreign and local reporters at a press conference at Ceylon Continental Hotel on Monday, before completing his short review visit to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who was accompanied by Admiral Thomas Fargo, Commander of the US Pacific Command, visited the tsunami-hit Galle district in the Southern Sri Lanka, where the US Marines are engaged in clearing the wrecked buildings to help rebuilding a sea wall.

Asked if he thought that in the aftermath of the tsunami tragedy in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and Aceh in Indonesia there was a greater possibility of peace in these two countries, Mr. Wolfowitz was cautious about seeing any similarities between Tamil rebels and the Acenese. Sri Lanka had witnessed a much more deep-seated insurgency, he said.

However, he saw indications that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were at least cooperating with the government and facilitating relief efforts, and this was a positive sign. At the same time, he also expressed the hope that all sides would realise the benefits of being part of a larger community.

Wolfowitz was in Sri Lanka as part of a tour of countries stricken by the killer tsunami of December 26. US marines, besides aircraft and ships, are involved rescue, relief and restoration work.

Initial reports said that about 1,500 marines would be deployed in Sri Lanka, but Mr. Wolfowitz said there were about 700 personnel, most of them engineers. Two positioning ships with water purification capability were also brought to the island, but since normalcy was fast returning to Sri Lanka, the ships would be shifted to the Maldives, he said.

The Deputy Defence Secretary noted that Sri Lanka was crossing the relief and rescue stage and moving towards reconstruction and rehabilitation. The tsunami catastrophe had created an emergency of the sort that only the military could be deployed to tackle it. However, the ground situation had improved, and the need for continued deployment of military forces had diminished.

He also pointed out that fourteen other countries had sent their military forces and equipment to Sri Lanka for rescue and relief work. India had sent the largest force, he said.

 

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