UNITED NATIONS - As the four-year-old cease-fire in Sri
Lanka is on the verge of crumbling, the United States has offered to strengthen
its military assistance programs and increase training for government forces
if the country's rebel group resumes its separatist war in the northern and
After meeting with senior officials in Washington last week, Sri Lankan Foreign
Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the objective of his trip was to keep Washington
abreast of "the current status of the peace talks, where it has got stalled,
and the need for it to be resumed as early as possible."
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been declared a foreign
terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, have been accused of several
recent attacks on Sri Lankan troops even while a Norwegian-monitored cease-fire
The rebel group has been fighting for a separate Tamil nation state in the
politically troubled northern and eastern provinces.
Describing recent LTTE attacks as "provocations of the highest order,"
Samaraweera told IPS: "These are very serious attacks on the cease-fire
agreement, which makes one wonder whether the cease-fire agreement is in place
The LTTE is also accused of attacking the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM), which has helped sustain the fragile cease-fire over the last
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern Monday about "the deteriorating
security situation in Sri Lanka" and deplored the attack on the facilities
of the SLMM.
"Escalating violence in the past few months has put a severe strain on
the cease-fire that had ushered in a new era of hope in Sri Lanka and brought
significant benefits for its people over the past four years. The impact of
renewed violence is once again being felt by the civilian population,"
Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead
used "blunt language" to warn the LTTE that the cost of returning
to war will be high.
"If the LTTE chooses to abandon peace, however, we want it to be clear,
they will face a stronger, more capable, and more determined Sri Lankan military,"
he added. He also said that U.S. military assistance "is not given because
we anticipate or hope for a return to hostilities."
The United States has provided an average of about $500,000 to Sri Lanka every
year as military grants under the International Military Education and Training
Program (IMET), compared with about $1.4 million annually to neighboring India.
Washington also upped its military credits under its Foreign Military Financing
(FMF) program: from $496,000 in 2005 to an estimated $1 million in 2006, compared
with a high of $2.5 million in 2004.
These credits could be used by Sri Lanka to buy either U.S. weapons or counter-terrorism
Annan said a return to conflict will not resolve outstanding differences between
the parties. He strongly urged the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE "to
shore up the cease-fire, ensure respect for the human rights of all Sri Lankans,
and urgently resume their dialogue under the facilitation of the Norwegian government."
Samaraweera told IPS the LTTE will continue to remain a designated "foreign
terrorist organization" (FTO) in the United States despite intense lobbying
by Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate groups to overturn the politically unpleasant
The U.S. list includes over 40 FTOs ranging from Peru's Shining Path and
the New People's Army in the Philippines to the Kurdistan Workers' Party in
Turkey and the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
A designated FTO may be dropped from the list after a biennial review of its
actions, or in the alternative, the designation may be continued. But recent
violations of the cease-fire in Sri Lanka make it unlikely that the LTTE will
be removed from the list any time soon.
The designation of the LTTE as a FTO means firstly, that it is illegal for
anyone in the United States to provide any financial support to these groups;
secondly, that U.S. institutions may block funds of FTOs and their agents; and
thirdly, FTO representatives could be denied entry visas to the United States.
The continued designation of the LTTE as an FTO puts it pretty much on a tight
leash in the United States although funds have been transferred either
as "charitable contributions" to LTTE front organizations in Sri Lanka
or for post-tsunami reconstruction.
Samaraweera said the United States has been duly warned about both loopholes.
The United States is also sending Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for
political affairs, to get a firsthand view of the ground situation in Sri Lanka
particularly in the north and the east.
Asked if the Sri Lankan government will, at some point, draw a line, Samaraweera
said: "Absolutely." "As a responsible government, we will remain
restrained and patient. We will certainly not fall into the trap of being provoked
as the LTTE may be hoping we will." But at the same time, he warned,
"even patience has its limits."
He said he had told U.S. officials that the LTTE should remain on the list
of FTOs as long as they only "pay lip service to a political settlement
while doing exactly the opposite." They should continue to be labeled terrorists,
which they are, he added.
"But having said that, if they are willing to talk and negotiate, and
come to a settlement, then I think at that point in time, the United States
could review the status of the LTTE."
"I am not saying that the LTTE should forever remain a terrorist organization.
The day they change, the world must also change. But until such time, they should
be kept on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations," he added.
Samaraweera said that Sri Lanka is one of the oldest functioning democracies
in Asia, and enjoyed universal voting rights as early as the 1930s.
At a time when the United States is promoting new democracies globally, it
is also imperative to nurture existing democracies and to protect democracies
under siege as in Sri Lanka, he added.
(Inter Press Service)