Preliminary aid conference held in Washington D.C

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 15 April 2003, 11:05 GMT]
A preliminary conference to the forth coming international aid conference in Japan was held in Washington D.C on 14 Monday at Loy Auditorium. The seminar, hosted by the State Department, was attended by representatives from 26 countries and 16 international organizations. Japan's special envoy to Sri Lanka Yashushi Akashi, Norway's Deputy Secretary of State, Vidar Helgessen and India's ambassador to U.S, Lalith Mansingh, were also present.

Opening remarks made by Richard L. Armitage, U.S Deputy Secretary of State follow:

"Well, thank you all very much. Jim, thank you for your kind introduction. I very much appreciate the presence of all of you here today.

For those of us who live in Washington, we're often treated to reminders of the vibrancy of this democracy. That's a way of saying demonstrations are practically a way of life to us. Indeed, I think many of you who work with the Fund or the Bank have had many occasions to enjoy this particular treat, as well. But I hope that no one had too much trouble getting here this morning and, as I said, I'm extraordinarily grateful to all of you for taking the trouble to be here this morning.

It is a diverse group which gathers here in these troubled times. We represent nations from nearly every continent, international financial institutions bigger and more complex than some nations, and organizations with a variety of missions and means. But it is my hope that one concern, one worthwhile cause might unite us this morning and that each of us might leave here today connected by a thread of intent; that we can, by working together, be a force for peace. More specifically, that we can be a force for peace in Sri Lanka.

I traveled to Sri Lanka last summer, as Jim mentioned, for the second time in my life. My first visit was in 1983 on the eve of a terrible and destructive civil war -- one that has since claimed more than 65,000 souls. My return last summer came about six months into the ceasefire to that conflict. I saw nothing of the time in between, so for me in a sense the years fell away. The change was truly shocking. Back then Sri Lanka was a charming, island nation with an educated populace, a dynamic economy, and strong institutions of democracy. And now it is a nation stunted by war with a populace weary to the bones of bearing the cost of fighting, and a territory that is, in places, nearly as desolate as a moonscape.

And I saw something else on my last visit. I saw Sri Lanka as it could be: a thriving, multi-faceted society once again enjoying peace and enjoying prosperity. And it was the Sri Lankans themselves who showed me that vision. Because finally, finally it is a vision they all, Muslims and Buddhists, Christians and Hindus, Sinhalese and Tamils -- it is a vision that they can all see a way in which to share.

And that is essentially why the United States is engaged in the current efforts to build peace. And that is why I want to interest all of you today in this very endeavor because this is something that can be done, and I believe it is something that can only be done with the work and the support of many hands. And, indeed, there are already many hands involved.

Norway, represented today by my friend, Secretary Helgesen, deserves much credit for bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table, and helping the warring parties to stay there. And Japan, represented today by Special Advisor Akashi, has been most generous with its considerable development acumen to include sponsoring an upcoming Donors Conference in June, one that I believe will offer tremendous benefits to all parties who attend -- and, of course, most importantly, to the people of Sri Lanka.

Of course, the key participants in June will be the parties to the conflict. And it is their willingness to reach a resolution that is providing the momentum to this peace process. To date, the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, have agreed to a cease-fire, a cease-fire which has held more than a year. Their representatives, including my friend Minister Milinda Moragoda, who will speak to you next, they have met in direct talks in six separate sessions so far. And those meetings have produced a number of important agreements, as well as concessions from both sides, including a shared political understanding of the future.

In the background, the people of Sri Lanka have responded with optimism. More than 300,000 displaced persons have returned to war-ravaged areas in the north and in the east of the country. Flights have resumed between Colombo and Jaffna, and the normal commerce and trade of civic life have rediscovered their cross-country routes.

And while you will have a chance to hear from Sri Lanka, Norway, and Japan today about progress in the negotiations and the next steps, there is one partner to peace that is today conspicuous in its absence, and that is the LTTE.

Now I know the Tigers are unhappy about their exclusion today, but let me explain their absence. The United States placed the LTTE on our list of foreign terrorists organizations back in 1997. That designation carries with it legal restrictions including a prohibition on issuing visas to members of the organization for entry into the United States. And while it is safe to say that the United States is encouraged by the recent behavior of the LTTE, we do not yet see a rationale for lifting the designation as a foreign terrorist organization. Our position is crystal clear. The LTTE must unequivocally renounce terrorism, in word and in deed, if we are to consider withdrawing the designation.

I think it is fair to say with the way the current negotiations are going, the United States can see a future for the LTTE as a legitimate political organization, but it is still up to the LTTE to change this situation. It is up to them to demonstrate that they are capable and worthy of such legitimacy.

For the LTTE and for the Government of Sri Lanka there are still many obstacles to overcome. Difficult issues still need to be addressed. And while much will depend on their political will, the success of the peace process ultimately will depend on tangible results. And it may well be that such results, at least in the near term, are simply beyond Sri Lanka's means, especially as it engages in a program of sweeping economic reforms. And that is why international support, both moral support and materiel support, is essential if Sri Lanka's quest for peace is to succeed.

Indeed, I believe the negotiations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have reached an important point, one where an infusion of international support can add an unstoppable force to this momentum of peace. This is an opportunity to show that when nations of good will join together and work as partners with international institutions and organizations, so much is possible -- so much more than any one nation or entity can achieve alone.

Now, I know this is a principle everyone in this room believes by instinct as well as by intellect, but it is a point that must be proven at every possible opportunity. So I welcome this chance to discuss with all of you the situation in Sri Lanka, to answer or to attempt to answer, along with the assembled experts, any questions about the ways in which international assistance can help to move the process forward and perhaps to arrive at some benchmarks of progress the Sri Lankans should be prepared to meet in order to secure such assistance.

So again, I end where I began. I thank you all heartily for attending this conference today and look forward to the interaction with you.

Thank you."

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