Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, in Press Conference in Colombo … Press Release from the US State Department
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good Afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. It’s a pleasure to be here again in Sri Lanka. I had good meetings this morning with President Rajapakse and Foreign Minister Samaraweera in which we discussed a whole range of issues, most notably, of course, the political and security situation in the country. We also discussed with the Foreign Minister some of the areas of bilateral cooperation and in fact our international cooperation on issues such as Iran and other things coming up in the area.
I told the President that we welcome the restraint that the government has shown in the face of many provocations by the Tamil Tigers. I told him that we stood squarely behind the government in its struggle to combat terror. As you all know, our position on the Tamil Tigers is that they have to renounce terror in both word and deed and commit themselves to a negotiated settlement if they are to have any dealings with the United States. I also told the President that the government needs to do everything possible to maintain law and order and to ensure the full respect of human rights in the areas that are under the government’s control. There are groups that are committing violent crimes in those areas. We take the government at its words that it will investigate those crimes thoroughly and bring people to justice.
Also, I reiterated our support, as I did in my speech today, for Norway’s facilitation mission and for the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission. We talked about economic development. We talked about the tremendous potential and economic opportunity of this nation. We talked about the desire of the United States to assist Sri Lanka with its political and economic development. We all know that development can only happen in an environment where peace is coming, or peace is improving, and that to achieve its full potential Sri Lanka needs a final political settlement. We think it’s time for all the parties to think about that solution: to put forward proposals and face the hard choices that are needed to end the suffering.
Those of us who are outside this process cannot impose a settlement. That has to come about through direct talks with the parties. We will do everything we can to help, but we urge the LTTE and the government to get back to the negotiating table and to create the climate for de-escalation of the violence and solution of the problems. As one of the co-chairs, the United States will do all we can to support that effort. Now I’d be happy to take any questions you have. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: This is Simon Gardner from Reuters. The European Union statement also was fairly, well it had a criticism for the government too, as you just mentioned, that the government should fulfill its pledges that were made to disarm armed groups. However, the government doesn’t feel there was any criticism intended at all and it was purely aimed at the LTTE. Is the government missing the message?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You’re asking an American to explain a European statement that the government has reacted to. I think I really have to decline the honor. I’m not a member of the EU. I’m not really in a position to explain the European Union’s statement.
QUESTION: I am Arun from Virakesari. In your speech in the late afternoon you said that if the Tigers give up terrorism the U.S. will be able to consider dealing with them. Does this mean there are possibilities to release the ban?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Our listings of terrorist organizations are based on the behavior of those organizations. We’d like nothing nicer than to be able to say that an organization or a government has ended its terrorist activities. But you need to see that happen not only in statements, but in deeds, and unfortunately the Tamil Tigers have not done that in any way. In fact, they’ve continued their provocative acts. They’ve accelerated their provocative acts and the fact is this is a terrorist organization and continues to be one. So what they are in terms of their activities, their terrorism is a matter of continuing concern. If they were to stop that, we could consider a different policy towards them. But frankly, it’s their behavior and their actions that have made it most difficult.
I think we all understand that the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has certain rights and certain needs and certain grievances that need to be addressed. I met this morning with a number of representatives of the Tamil community and just talked to them about how things are here and what they felt and what they faced. Although we reject the methods that the Tamil Tigers have used, there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland; in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited so I don’t want to confuse the issue of talking to Tamils and understanding legitimate grievances and legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community with not talking to the LTTE. Whether to talk to the Tigers or not is based upon their behavior and if they continue terrorism we won’t. If they abandon terrorism and one’s able to say they are no longer a terrorist organization, then we would find opportunities to consider [dealing with them].
QUESTION: I’m Kumuda from the Sunday Leader. The Co-chairs have called upon the government and the LTTE to recommit to the agreements reached in the 2003 and 2004 talks including the Oslo Communiqué and the Geneva Talks recently. Do you expect this to happen? And, if not, what will your stance be?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know if it will happen. I think whatever negotiations you try to have have to build on what has gone before. There is a history there, there’s a lot of work that has been done, there is progress that has been made before. So we would hope that progress would be used by both sides and that people would build on that and that’s what the Co-chairs said. If they don’t do that, I think it will be very hard to move forward. I think everybody is interested in moving forward. We want to take what has been done before and try to build on that.
QUESTION: I’m Ravindran from Oliden Radio. The donor’s conference asked for drastic political changes from the government of Sri Lanka. Can you please elaborate on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sorry, who asked?
QUESTION: The donor’s conference.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You mean the Toyko meeting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t know if I can elaborate much more than what was in the statement. When you look at the situation now and the forms of government and the way things are structured now, and what it would take to involve the Tamil community politically in a new arrangement — that does require a great deal of change. A radical change in terms of movement. Now that’s a change that can be considered. A vision needs to be put out and needs to be elaborated by the parties themselves and then negotiated by the parties themselves. But whatever you call it, it is quite a different governing structure than what you have now and one that’s designed to give an enhanced political role to all the people of Sri Lanka but particularly to take into account the desire of Tamils and Muslims to have more control over their own destinies and over their own areas.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I am Vijay Dissanayake from the National Television. You have said that the United States Government is in active dialog with India on the developments in Sri Lanka. What role do you think India should play to bring about a lasting solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That’s an interesting question. In the end it’s going to be a question the Indian government has to answer for itself. What we’ve found so far in just talking, we find their insights useful. We find it useful to compare notes and understandings with them. I think the Co-chairs have been in the habit of regularly talking to India, representatives of the Indian government, so they understand what we’re doing and we can understand what they’re doing. I think ultimately what part any of us from the outside play, whether it’s India, the United States, Norway, or anybody else, depends on the parties themselves. We’ll see what role India might think it could take in this process, but we will all see, more importantly I think, whether the parties find a useful role that they think India should be playing with them.
QUESTION: I’m Raj Balabanaike from the Sunday Times, I mean Sunday Observer in Colombo. Mr. Boucher, you said .
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You applying to a new organization? (laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, you talked repeatedly about Tamil Tiger provocations and in this light, I was wondering whether by implication, what would you say of the Sri Lankan government’s prerogative to meet these provocations by way of retaliatory action, etc?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don’t think its matter of prerogatives. Every government, every military has a right to defend themselves. The question is what is going to move forward towards the government’s goals; towards the goals of finding a peaceful solution on this island. I think the policy the government has basically followed of restraint has been a good one in that regard. (inaudible) they have followed a policy of restraint. We also, in our Co-chairs statement, said we thought there were things the government can and should be doing, both in terms of presenting a vision to show a way forward, and also then working to ensure that the human rights violations are investigated and stopped and the human rights of all the citizens were respected. One can look at this from a theoretical point of view and say to so-and-so, I have a right to do this and to do that, but I think so far the government has taken a practical approach in terms of trying to move forward and has exercised restraint. We think there are other things that they can do indeed that would help move forward as well.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I’m Keith Noyher (sic) from the Nation. It’s I think it will be three years since the Co-chairs met in the donor conference in Tokyo. Nothing much has happened since then. The LTTE has skipped that meeting. Now this sort of created a sense of frustration among the Co-chairs meeting time and again but nothing has happened, and the peace process hasn’t moved an inch forward. How do you react to that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think that there are two things that the Co-chairs tried to do. One, is to make sure that the assistance to Sri Lanka was well spent. I think you saw in our Co-chairs statement that, indeed, $3.4 billion dollars has been spent and that we thought that money had gone to good purposes here in Sri Lanka. It’s helped a lot with building infrastructure, creating schools, creating parks, a variety of developments needs. In fact, more than 20% of that money has gone into the North and East. So we know We think it’s contributing to the needs of all the people in Sri Lanka, including the Tamil community in the North and East. So that was one: make sure the money is well spent. We’ve probably done a better job on that than on number two, which is to support and shepherd and assist with the peace process. It’s hard to assist with a peace process if there is not a lot of negotiation and peace process going on. We also have to look at the situation and say what can we try to do next to move things forward.
We have supported the Norwegian role as facilitator. We very much supported the role of the Co-chairs to try to help with assistance, but also on the peace process. I think we are looking at other efforts that we can take with other governments, either to push the parties or to help the parties move forward. The fact that we haven’t gotten far in the last couple of years is not a sign that we should abandon our efforts. We think it’s an important enough task for all of us that we need to keep to trying and we need to keep trying for ways forward and that’s what we will keep doing.
QUESTION: Shimali Sennanayake for the New York Times. Your Co-Chair statements spoke about deep isolation for the LTTE if it does not renounce violence. If the LTTE escalates its attacks further, is it only deep isolation that the LTTE faces, or will they face something more? Are you looking at further supporting the government in a military sense?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We are looking at supporting the government as a good partner in many areas, and we obviously consider this a democratically elected government. We have assistance programs that go here. We have programs like the Millennium Challenge Account program that we’re working on with the government to provide more assistance for their programs, particularly when it comes to rural development and agricultural things. We do have military exchanges and programs with the government, including some military sales. Those are all legitimate and important aspects of our work with the government. So I think that’s already something that’s ongoing. I don’t know how much that might change depending on the actions of the LTTE. But, certainly, we’re trying to support the people of Sri Lanka through their democratic government. What that refers to, as well, though, is that the deepening isolation of the LTTE has been caused by their terrorist acts. You have, now, other governments listing them, trying to cut off the financial flows. We are talking to other governments about their sources of finance and their sources of arms, and how we can squeeze that more and try to keep that from flowing in to fuel the conflict. I think, inevitably, if they continue on the path of terrorism instead of the path of negotiation, they will find more and more people turned against them and more and more people who are actively looking to cut off their sources of support.
QUESTION: [You just mentioned arms. What kind measures and strategies can you take since much of the weaponry is coming in from Southeast Asia?]
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think, first of all we need to raise the profile of this. This is a danger: that this funneling of arms into areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers and their acquisition of weapons is a danger to this island and a danger to the people here, and that other governments need to do what they can to stop it. So I think we’ll be talking to governments multilaterally and then talking to individual governments as we discover and find out where these flows are coming from and how they’re occurring. Governments, I’m sure, don’t want this to occur on their territory. But it’s a matter of finding out more closely how it’s happening and where it’s coming from and how the shipments go, and then looking for ways that the government can intervene to stop.
QUESTION: Sorry, I wonder if I might follow up? It’s on a slightly different issue, actually. It’s on this issue of truce monitors suspecting that some elements of the military are colluding with a breakaway group this Karuna group that’s killing the Tigers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you feel the government is doing enough to curb that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The government took a commitment in Geneva to cut off the activities of groups that were operating independently. I think we all feel that that commitment has not been fulfilled at this point, that there is, indeed, more action that the government could take in that regard. We talk about the standards that we expect of the government because they are a democratically elected government. They need to, first of all, prevent human rights abuses, and to prevent the operations of paramilitaries or other armed groups on their territory. But second of all, to establish what you might call “positive control” over all the people that work for them, all the people that are associated with them, all the people in government territories to make sure that nobody is supporting that sort of activity by armed groups. I think that’s where we do look for them to do more to carry out the pledge they made in Geneva.
QUESTION: Amal Jayasinghe, Agence France-Presse. You mentioned the gifting of a Coast Guard cutter as a sign of tangible support to the government in its fight against the Tigers. So, does it stop at that or is there any more cooperation and active support or any more tangible things [that might be gifted]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That gets back to the question before. We are working with the government in any number of areas. We’re working with the government diplomatically on some aspects of the problem; we’re working with the government directly on economic development questions. I cited the Millennium Challenge Corporation funding as one of the aspects. We’re working with the government on military aspects, including training and exchanges as well as some matters of equipment. So I think we want to continue to work with the government in all these areas. We want to make sure we have a positive relationship with Sri Lanka, with the people of Sri Lanka, and the government of Sri Lanka in the political area, in the economic area, and in the security area in a variety of ways. So we’ll continue to be involved in very tangible ways with the government and with the people of Sri Lanka, from all the communities, for that matter. Thank you.
Released on June 2, 2006