US urges ceasefire implementation followed by talks

[TamilNet, Sunday, 23 June 2002, 07:58 GMT]
(News Feature) The United States' Ambassador to Sri Lanka said his government urges a negotiated settlement to the island's ethnic conflict and said the Tamil people have "legitimate grievances about the way that they have been treated in this country." Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Mr. Ashley Wills said: "We agree with [Sri Lanka's policy of talking to the LTTE], and that we don't see a military solution to the conflict. We do see a political solution." Calling on the LTTE to renounce its armed struggle, the Ambassador expressed confidence the LTTE wanted to participate in talks.

Acknowledging that the Norwegian peace initiative has "slowed just a little bit" recently, Mr. Wills felt this was not a serious problem in itself. "We think the slowing down, if one can call it that, might be a good thing, giving the two sides more time to sort out their positions as they approach talks."

"The main thing is to keep the cease-fire in effect and make sure its terms are implemented by both sides as much as possible, and then get to the negotiating table. We think that this will happen. It's certainly our hope that it will happen," the Ambassador said.

"In the last two decades, as this conflict has arisen and been prolonged, we've expressed solidarity with the government of Sri Lanka as it tries to end the conflict, while also expressing sympathy for the Tamil people, who have had legitimate grievances about the way that they have been treated in this country," Mr. Wills said.

"We have used our moral authority as a significant international player to promote the idea of a peaceful outcome and we will continue to do that," he said.

When asked to comment on Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando's call for US pressure on the LTTE to talk, Mr. Wills said "We hope the LTTE will decide on its own to come to the negotiating table, and, as I said, we think that will happen."

"One of the new factors in the equation here in Sri Lanka is that the Tigers seem to have reached the conclusion that they will do a better job of representing the interests of Tamil people by pursuing a peaceful solution rather than by continuing the so-called armed struggle," Mr. Wills said.

"I hope [the Tigers] have reached that conclusion, because it is our belief that the Tamil people are tired of this conflict. There is an opportunity for negotiations that will give them a respected, secure place in a united Sri Lanka. We hope that the Tigers recognise this and will use this opportunity of negotiations to push for such an outcome."

Lamenting that the Tigers "have in the past taken advantage of legitimate Tamil grievances to pursue an extreme, separatist agenda, using violent means," Mr. Wills said "we are convinced that the Tamils can have protection and find respect in a united Sri Lanka, and it is our fervent hope that the Tigers realise this too."

However the Ambassador refused to be drawn on the nature of a solution to the ethnic conflict.

"We'll be comfortable with any negotiated solution as long as Sri Lanka is permanently at peace, is democratic and is united," he said.

Saying it was not appropriate for him to comment on what political system is right for Sri Lanka, Mr. Wills said: "We like our federal system and recommend it when asked by people around the world. But it's not for us to say whether it is the appropriate model for other countries, including Sri Lanka."

He pointed out that the US federal system had strengths: "it does a pretty good job at delivering good governance; it keeps as much local governing as possible, that is close to the citizenry; and it takes account of the fact that our society is diverse."

Mr. Wills said that if Sri Lanka decided to lift the ban on the LTTE, it would not have an impact on the US proscription. "A decision by Sri Lanka to de-ban the LTTE will be noted by our government, but it will have nothing to do with our own sovereign decisions."

Mr. Wills praised present US-Sri Lanka relations, saying: "We, over the years, have provided a tremendous amount of financial assistance to Sri Lanka. In fact, since independence, I think we are the largest single donor of official assistance to Sri Lanka."

"We have a modest relationship between our military and the Sri Lankan military. It has developed over the years, and doesn't involve much in the way of equipment sales, but it does involve significant training of Sri Lanka's forces, and also training on the rules of conflict. ... We think this is an appropriate way for us to engage with Sri Lanka."


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