Paramilitary issue raised in Congressional Hearing

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 March 2006, 02:19 GMT]
Congressman James A Leach, Chairman, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and Donald Camp, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, during a House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Recent Developments in Nepal held on 15 March 2006, mentioned the presence of armed paramilitary groups as one of the impediments to peace.

James A. Leach
Congressman James A Leach (Republican, Iowa)
In the opening statement Congressman Leach said, "although origins of the conflicts in Nepal and Sri Lanka are distinct, both present profound humanitarian and political challenges for the region,as well as for the United States and the broader international community."

Commending the efforts of Government of Norway for brokering the talks in Geneva which saved the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) from likely collapse, Congressman Leach said: "failure of the government to reach an agreement with the Tamil separatists (LTTE) on a mechanism to provide post-Tsunami relief to areas in the north and east of the country, as well as ongoing paramilitary operations against the insurgents, may have convinced the LTTE leadership that Colombo was unlikely to commit to a just and permanent peace."

He also said that the killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgarmar and politically motivated killings may have eroded the support of the Sinhala people towards the CFA.

Donald A Camp
Donald A Camp
Donald Camp, outlined the International Community's effort in applying pressure to the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree to Norway's efforts to bring the parties together for talks described the outcome of Geneva talks as follows:

"The negotiators achieved two significant outcomes that should give the peace process in Sri Lanka a new momentum. First, they agreed to refrain from violence and uphold the ceasefire agreement. The government specifically addressed the problem of armed groups, a serious Tamil grievance, and committed to ensuring that “no armed group or person other than government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations.” The LTTE pledged to take “all necessary measures to ensure that there will be no acts of violence against the security forces and police.” Given the difficulty involved in even convening this meeting and seeing it through to a conclusion, we consider it a significant achievement that both sides agreed to meet again in Geneva April 19 – 21."

On abductions, Mr Camp said, "In one recent high-profile case, employees of the Tamil Relief Organization (TRO) were reportedly abducted by armed groups and some were later released. Immediately upon hearing the news of the abductions, Ambassador Lunstead contacted high-level SriLankan government officials to express our concerns. Our Embassy released a press statement, reinforcing our concerns and urging restraint. The Sri Lankan government is investigating the incident and our Embassy continues to follow developments on the case."

He said that LTTE has engaged in politically motivated killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trail, arbitrary interference with privacy, and denial of freedom of speech, press, assembly and association, and that he is "particularly concerned about ongoing LTTE recruitment of child soldiers, in spite of its pledge to end such activity."

Mr Camp also addressed the issues of lack of religious freedom, flight of refugees to Tamil Nadu, uneven distribution of relief to NorthEast and the failure of P-TOMS.

Nina Shea
Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom
In another hearing of Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, Ms Nina Shea, Director Center for Religious Freedom, giving testimony said militant Buddhists have perpetrated more than 200 attacks against largely Christian minorities in the last two years.

"Yet the government of Sri Lanka routinely appeases Buddhist extremists by failing to prevent the violence or prosecute those responsible," she added.

Ms Shea said that in 2005, Sri Lanka was on the brink of adopting legislation that would have undermined freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. On June 27, the government submitted to the parliament a criminal anti-conversion bill authored by the current Prime Minister. The bill sought to reverse the perceived growth of non-Buddhist religions by creating a new crime of “attempted conversion” punishable by 5-7 years in prison. An international outcry, including sharp criticism from the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, helped prevent the bill from coming to a vote before the most recent elections, she added.

External Links:
US: Donald Camp’s statement
US: Jim Leach's statement
US: Testimony of Nina Shea, Director Center for Religious Freedom


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