US denies military alliance amid Tamil suspicion

[TamilNet, Friday, 31 May 2002, 10:04 GMT]
(News Feature) The United States denied Friday it was planning to enter into defence pact or treaty with Sri Lanka and said the proposed Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), “does not ally the two countries in any formal way.” Sri Lankan and Indian press coverage of increased defence cooperation between Colombo and Washington, including the supply of two radar-equipped surveillance aircraft, had drawn protests from Tamil politicians and media that the move would damage prospects for peace.

In a terse statement issued Friday, the US Embassy in Colombo said that in response to “broad, and occasionally inaccurate, press coverage,” it “would like to make clear what the ACSA is and is not.”

Stating that the two countries “have been engaged in discussions concerning this proposed agreement, but it has not yet been concluded,” the Embassy said such “low-level agreements [are] designed to address modest needs in a manner convenient to both parties.”

“The ACSA is, as its name implies, an agreement that allows the armed services of each party to the agreement to avail itself of servicing, repairs, spare parts and equipment of the other in exchange for payment or through the exchange of identical goods or goods of equivalent value,” the statement said.

But “ACSA is not a means to acquire major arms,” the Embassy said.

“It is not a means to acquire bases. ACSA has nothing to do with access to Sri Lanka’s airspace or waters,” the Embassy further said. “ The United States has no interest in acquiring military bases anywhere in Sri Lanka.

The Hindu newspaper had quoted Sri Lankan defence officials as saying that the treaty would effectively allow US warships and planes the use of Sri Lanka's ports, airports and air space, particularly for refuelling, in return for training assistance and supply of spare parts and repairs.

Two US Navy ships, the USS Hopper and USS Sides, recently called in at the Colombo port, one for refuelling and the other on a rest-and recreation stop. These were the first visits by US Naval ships to Sri Lanka in eight years.

The Sri Lanka Air Force will take delivery soon of two surveillance aircraft fitted with special radar capability, from the US defence company Raytheon, The Hindu further reported. The US Government facilitated the purchase, but an Embassy spokesman said it was unconnected to the new agreement, and had been in the pipeline since 2000, the paper said.

“United States and Sri Lanka have enjoyed a modest but appropriate level of military cooperation for a number of years. The ACSA is not a departure from the nature of this long-standing relationship, but a further confirmation of it,” the Embassy said, adding the US has similar agreements with 56 countries.

Tamil politicians last week expressed concern that the increased military cooperation between the US and Sri Lanka would be detrimental to efforts to peacefully solve the ethnic conflict.

Leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said such a pact coming into force prior to a permanent solution being established would only complicate matters. "Just as many conflicts in places where similar pacts have been agreed remain unsolved, this will only damage the prospects for a solution here," said Mr. Sivasithambaram, President of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).

The leader of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Mr. N Srikantha, said that the US wants to secure a military foothold in Sri Lanka. The EPRLF's leader, Suresh Premachandran, also said unnecessary complications could arise with regards to the peace effort in the wake of the US-Sri Lanka defence pact.

“The Tamil people look at this agreement with concern and apprehension because it would eventually commit the US to provide logistic support, training and military supplies to the Sri Lankan security forces. The Tamil people feel that the agreement is meant as a warning to the LTTE, to make it fall in line with the peace process," Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, TNA MP for Batticaloa told Mr. Joseph L. Novak, the head of the political section of the US Embassy.

The US Special Forces train the Sri Lanka Army’s elite 53 division which has spearheaded all major operations against the Liberation Tigers since 1995. The US Navy SEALs train the Sri Lankan naval commandos.

“The temptation to pressure the LTTE to … accept [Sri Lanka’s position on points of contention in the peace process] must inevitably be strong and Tamil suspicions are growing accordingly. The timing of Sri Lanka’s announcement last week that the massive oil facility in Trincomalee would be handed over to India - in keeping with Delhi’s "strategic interests" - along with the unveiling of a significant defence agreement with the United States is being questioned in this light,” the London-based Tamil Guardian newspaper said in its editorial this week.

 

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