US questioned for lack in response to match the catastrophe

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 22 April 2009, 20:16 GMT]
While talking about rebuilding the society afterwards, US efforts right now are not matching the emergency of the situation described as a catastrophe by the ICRC, was a question of journalist, Mr. Arshad, put to US spokesman Robert Wood, when he came out with a statement on Sri Lanka, during the daily press conference of the State Department Wednesday. The spokesman agreed but placed the blame on the defiance of the parties to the conflict to the calls of the international community. Another question was on the US presumption that the conflict is coming to an end by Sri Lankan military action. “Is it not quite conceivable that the level of violence that is now occurring will simply sow the seeds for continuing or renewed conflict”, Arshad asked Wood. While agreeing that violence is at an unacceptable level, Wood said that he couldn’t make that kind of judgement.

In the press briefing Wednesday, Mr. Wood called upon both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to refrain from indiscriminate fire and shelling into and from the no-fire zone.

He also urged the GoSL to allow international observers to ascertain a more precise figure of the civilians and to allow the UN and the ICRC to all sites where internally displaced persons coming out of the no-fire zones are being processed and provided shelter and other services.

Saying that it is a positive development that tens of thousands of civilians have left in recent days, Wood criticized the LTTE for attacking civilians as they attempt to leave the no-fire zone.

“We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue diplomacy, to advocate the release of the remaining civilians from the no-fire zone”, wood said, adding that Sri Lanka should observe restraint and patience in these ‘waning days of the conflict’.

Arkash
Journalist, Mr. Arshad
When Mr. Arshad pointed out that “it’s just clear that whatever you are doing has not succeeded in persuading the Sri Lankan authorities to stop their offensive, or pause it”, Mr Wood replied that both the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE were not heeding to the calls of the US.

Commenting on the press brief, Tamil circles said that unless there is a drastic change in US attitude and necessary swift action, a catastrophe cannot be avoided not only for the Tamil civilians but also for future US interests in the island.


(Video courtesy: US State Department website)

Full transcript of the press brief on Sri Lanka, published by the US State Department, follows:

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I’m going to start off with a few points on Sri Lanka and the situation there.

It is a positive development that tens of thousands of civilians have left in recent days. However, many more civilians remain. The exact number is unclear, and we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow international observers to ascertain a more precise figure. There continues to be firing from both sides into the no-fire zone, and we have credible reports of increasing casualties as a result of intensified military actions.

We call on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to refrain from indiscriminate fire and shelling into and from the no-fire zone. We understand there have been incidents of the LTTE firing on and otherwise attacking civilians as they attempt to leave the no-fire zone. We call on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and respect their freedom of movement.

We also strongly support the UN secretary general’s call for UN staff to be allowed into the no-fire zone to facilitate relief operations and evacuation of civilians. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow the UN and the ICRC local and international staff access to all sites where internally displaced persons coming out of the no-fire zones are being processed and provided shelter and other services.

We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue diplomacy, to advocate the release of the remaining civilians from the no-fire zone. Our Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Blake, is in daily communication with senior Sri Lankan military and government officials, and is emphasizing the importance of demonstrating restraint and patience in these waning days of the conflict, in order to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff that will allow the release of the civilians trapped in the no-fire zone.

So that’s what I have, and I’m ready to take your questions.

Yes.

QUESTION: Has this gone any further than the ambassador speaking to Sri Lankan Government and military officials and Assistant Secretary Boucher participating in the Tokyo Co-Chairs group’s conversations last week? I mean, have you done anything at a higher level to try to impress on the Sri Lankan Government to do more to ensure the safety of the civilians?

MR. WOOD: Yes, I mean, we have been engaged at very senior levels on this issue of the protection of civilians in the conflict zone. And you know, the Secretary is already thinking about, you know, how we go forward after this conflict is over and what we can do to help Sri Lanka rebuild and deal with the humanitarian situation that, you know, will certainly be a difficult one after this is all over. So there are a lot of discussions going on internally in the U.S. Government at senior levels. There have been communications with other interested parties and governments about what we can do not only to protect civilians right now, but also in the aftermath of this conflict

QUESTION: Has she been involved or has Assistant Secretary Boucher been involved directly in the last – I mean, the last time I’m aware that she did something on this was when she had a meeting with the permanent secretary of the Sri Lankan foreign ministry I think about ten days ago, right? And it’s just clear that whatever you are doing has not succeeded in persuading the Sri Lankan authorities to stop their offensive, or pause it, to let more of the people – I mean, there was this brief pause, I know, of 24 hours, but then they’ve resumed, you know, fighting immediately afterwards. So this isn’t working even though some people have gotten out. And I’m wondering if you are escalating it beyond just having the ambassador be in touch with the local authorities.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the subject of the violence in Sri Lanka is something that’s come up quite a bit. I remember when the Secretary had a meeting with the Norwegian foreign minister, they discussed the issue. She’s touched on it in various meetings that she’s had with her counterparts. I can’t give an exact – I can’t remember exactly with whom she raised it, but I do know that she has raised it quite a bit. She’s very concerned.

Again, it’s not just the United States. It’s a number of other countries that have an interest in seeing this conflict end. And we’re all trying to marshal our resources, cooperate more closely to see what we can do. But you’re right, the government and the LTTE have not been heeding our calls. And we’re going to continue to push. This is an important foreign policy item that we have to deal with, and we’ll continue. We want to make sure, as I said yesterday, that civilians are not any further in harm’s way, and we’re going to continue to work the issue.

QUESTION: Well, two things here, if I may.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, one, it just seems like there’s a disproportion between the level of effort on the part of the U.S. Government to try to put an end to this, and what the Red Cross, I think, has described as a catastrophe, which – strong words from them, or strong word. And so I just – I still don’t get what seems at least to me to be a disproportion between events on the ground and the level of U.S. Government effort. It’s all very well to talk about rebuilding the society afterwards, but that ain’t going to help anybody who – any civilian who dies in the next day or two or three.

QUESTION: Yeah, I agree with you. Like I said, there has been high-level U.S. Government involvement and attention being paid to this issue. The problem is – as I said, the parties are not heeding the call from not just the United States, but from the broader international community. And so we’re trying to figure out ways that we can apply more pressure on both the government and the LTTE to cease their activities.

And you know, there is a lot of diplomatic effort going on, Arshad. We’re just not talking about all of it, but there is a lot of high-level engagement on trying to end this conflict.

QUESTION: I’ve got one last one on this.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems to me that there is a presumption – I mean, you said twice “as the conflict comes to an end,” and you talked about preparations for after it’s over. You know, obviously this is an incredibly long insurgency. Insurgencies typically are not resolved, you know, militarily. And I wonder why you think that after the – it seems as if you assume that the Sri Lankan military is going to be able to extirpate every Tamil Tiger and every Tamil Tiger supporter, and then the conflict is over. And I don’t see why you make that assumption. Why is it not – is it not quite conceivable that the level of violence that is now occurring will simply sow the seeds for continuing or renewed conflict?

MR. WOOD: Well, I can’t make that kind of judgment, Arshad. I think none of us can really make that judgment at this point. Again, the violence is at an unacceptable level. There’s no question about it.

But the important thing to remember here is that the international community is very focused on trying to end this conflict, and trying to push the parties in a direction that is going to not only end the hostilities, but also protect the civilians because we are very concerned about the situation on the ground. And I’m – what I’m just saying to you is that we are working very hard with others in the international community to try to end the conflict. It’s not easy. If we were – this conflict – it’s been going on since 1983. And what we’re trying to do is marshal our diplomatic resources in a way that can bring about an end to this conflict, but at the same time protecting civilians who are clearly in harm’s way. So let me just leave it at that with regard to what we’re trying to do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: James.

QUESTION: Is the humanitarian situation there one that extends beyond merely the exposure to potential killing of civilians? Are there food shortages or other things that you would identify?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we’re very concerned about humanitarian supplies getting into the safe areas. And when you’ve got the fighting going on, it’s very difficult for groups like the ICRC and others to try to tend to, you know, the populations in those areas.

And so again, what we’re trying to do – and when I say we, I’m talking about others in the international community are working on this – is to try to get the government and the LTTE to desist their hostilities, protect those civilians in those areas so that we can get humanitarian supplies, food, in to those people. But it’s difficult. It’s very difficult to try to do that when you’ve got a conflict going on. So we’re trying to use all of our diplomatic tools to convince both sides of the need to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian supplies get in. It’s difficult.

QUESTION: You talk about a lot of diplomatic engagement and diplomatic activities, some of which you’re willing to discuss and some of which you’re not. Does any of that involve NGOs, and are you – is the United States working directly with NGOs?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we’re talking to NGOs. We’re talking to a wide range of people, and not just the United States, but other governments that are involved in this – the United Kingdom, Norway, others. But like I said, James, this is not something that we can expect to resolve overnight, but we’re trying hard because we understand the humanitarian implications of what’s going on. And we’ll just continue with our efforts because we want to see this conflict end, and we want, as I said, to see civilians out of harm’s way.


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