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Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Ceasefire Agreement & Lifting of Ban on LTTE > Ambassador E. Ashley Willis on US Interests in Peace Process, 25 April 2002

Norwegian Peace Initiative

Ambassador E. Ashley Willis on US Interests in Peace Process
25 April 2002,  Source: 
Rupavahini Colombo

Following is the transcript of US Ambassador E. Ashley Wills� interview with Pradeep Amirthanayagam of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation broadcast on 25 April 2002, Colombo.

Question: If I were to begin by asking you, how involved is the US Government in the current peace process in Sri Lanka? 

Answer: I think in the media, locally, our involvement has been overstated somewhat. We have taken the position that we support very strongly moves toward peace. We support the attempt by the Norwegian government to facilitate communications between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. We have made it known through a series of statements that we believe the way out of this conflict is negotiations that will give Tamil Sri Lankans a sense of belonging, a stake in the country and will keep Sri Lanka united.

Q: Do you think the current peace process is any different to what has taken place before in Sri Lanka? 

A: I believe that there are certain factors that are present now that were not in evidence in the past. One is that the war has gone on inconclusively for 19 years and I think that there is certain exhaustion on both sides and perhaps a growing realization that the war will not settle this conflict.

I believe that there is a consensus down here, in the South, that negotiations are worth a try. And, if one is to believe what Mr. Prabhakaran and the LTTE say, then in the North and in the East as well there is a sense that a peaceful resolution should be sought. Internationally, the context is different than it was before. But the international factors will not be the decisive ones here in Sri Lanka. This conflict will be sorted out by Sri Lankans sitting down together and approaching talks with a positive outlook and a sense of compromise. Both sides are going to have to get something as in any negotiation to get where the country wants to be.

Q: Do you believe that it is a workable solution: 

A: Yes, I believe there is a peaceful solution... This is not going to be South Asia�s one hundred years war. I think that peace is inevitable, the question is when. I have had some Sri Lankans remark to me in recent weeks and months that this is the country�s last chance. I don�t agree with that.

As I said there is going to be an end to this conflict whether it happens now, or soon, or few years from now. It will eventually end. I�d rather cast it in different terms, it is the country�s best chance. It is the best chance for Sri Lankans down here to show that they are willing to give Tamils a sense of belonging, and of respect and dignity, to give Tamils a stake in this nation. And I think it is the best chance for Mr. Prabhakaran and the LTTE to show that if they really do care about promoting the rights of Tamils and promoting the well-being of Tamils, then continuing the conflict is not the way to go.

The way to go is to negotiate a solution that assures Tamils their rights and a sense of ownership in this country and that does so within the country as it exists today. We�ve made it plain that we do not support the idea of an independent Tamil Eelam, that we believe the conflict can be sorted out and Tamil rights assured while keeping Sri Lanka united. We think the international community feels that way and we hope that Mr. Prabhakaran will take advantage of this best chance. We hope that the government here and other political parties and the civilian community here in the South, as well, will take advantage of this opportunity.

Q: Mr. Ambassador, peace talks are scheduled to commence soon, and should the Sri Lankan government lift the de-proscription of the LTTE, would the US government reciprocate?

A: No. I made a statement a couple of months ago and just last week in Washington, our Deputy Secretary of State Mr. Armitage, in a meeting with Minister G.L. Peiris, made a similar statement that, should Sri Lanka lift its proscription against the LTTE, the United States will not follow suit. Our decision to put the LTTE on our list of so-called Foreign Terrorist Organizations was a sovereign autonomous decision that we made several years ago.

The decision to take the LTTE off that list will also be a sovereign and autonomous one, and my government will make it. As our Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Rocca said when she was here a few weeks ago, we cannot consider taking the Tiger off our list until they renounce the use of terror and violence. When they do that and when they demonstrate by their deeds for a period of time, after making such a statement, that there will no longer be terrorism, then at that future point we will review our characterization of the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

Q: In the meantime, would the US government provide assistance towards the rehabilitation and the reconstruction of the North and East?

A: Well, yes, although I have to point out here that we will not be in a position to provide large amounts of assistant until there is a final peace agreement. We don�t want to invest our taxpayers� money in efforts to rehabilitate the areas affected by the conflict until we are certain that there will no longer be conflict. Now, having said that, we are intending to offer certain modest programs of assistance in the North and East as we presently offer here and in the country�s South. But any consideration of more substantial assistance will await a peace agreement.

Q: The US demining forces are now in the country. How successful have their operations been thus far?

A: They are only beginning now. This team arrived just a couple days ago. They are in Jaffna and have been assigned a five square kilometre area not too far from Chavakachcheri. It will work for up to four months clearing that area, which apparently was pretty heavily populated when peace ruled in the Peninsula. It will try to rid that area of mines in this four-month period. This is a deployment of two teams of deminers - two teams of ten individuals each. We call these teams Quick Reaction Demining Teams. As the name implies, these people come into work for a relatively short period of time. We have brought them in at the request of the Sri Lankan government to provide assistance to show our support for this country�s attempt at reaching a peace and ridding the areas that have been affected by war of these mines.

A larger effort, a more systematic effort is also in prospect. We ourselves intend to participate on a broader scale. We know that other government and other international organizations too intend to participate in demining attempts in the North and the East of the country, wherever mines have been placed. The effort will be multilateral and will also be lengthy. There are a lot of mines in Sri Lanka and it will take time to remove them all. This particular team - these two teams - are here to do as much as they can in this four-month period but they will not be able to rid the Jaffna peninsula of all the mines that have been laid there by both sides.

Q: Your Excellency, there is speculation that the US Government has its designs on Trincomalee, what have you to say?

A: Well, Amirthanayagam, I have read those stories where such speculation appeared, and my colleagues and I in the Embassy have been surprised by such speculation, even amused by it. The United States Government has no intention at all, and has not had any intention, of establishing a naval base in Trincomalee. Nothing could be further from our minds right now. Our preoccupation is to do what we can on the margins - as I said that we don�t believe it our role will be central - to the bringing of peace in Sri Lanka. But we think we can make a modest contribution, and we certainly hope that we can, and that is our preoccupation at the moment, not establishing military bases in Trinco, or anywhere else in Sri Lanka, for that matter. I read recently speculation that we were going to establish a missile base in the Sinharaja Forest, and it astonished me. Why would we want to do that? If I can state categorically for your viewers, we have no wish to establish a military base of any sort anywhere in this lovely sovereign nation of Sri Lanka.

Q: To take you outside the realm of Sri Lanka just briefly, would you like to comment on the current crisis in the Middle-East, Palestine?

A: It�s tragic, and it is seemingly intractable. But we are not without hope that the violence can be brought to an end between the Israeli and the Palestinians. Our President has called on both sides to restrain themselves and to resist the urge to commit acts of violence. He has called on the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from the Palestinian settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere. He has called on Mr. Arafat to denounce the suicide bombers who have caused so much terror in Israeli territory. It�s clear that both sides have got to change the way they think about what is the best way to reach their political goals.

We�ve said that we support the establishing of a sovereign Palestinian state. We�ve also said that Israel deserves to be respected as a nation and to be recognized as a nation that is not going away. There are still many people in so-called West Asia who would like to annihilate the Israeli state, and they are, the Israeli�s are, understandably, bothered by that and so are we. We are convinced that they, the Israelis, and they, the Palestinians can live together peacefully. Our vision for that area is for these two peoples to live in two sovereign states that exist peacefully side by side, trade goods peacefully, and make their citizens more prosperous and secure than they are today.

Q: Your Excellency, my final question stems out of John F. Kennedy�s inaugural address in 1961. Sri Lanka too, like the US, is very proud of its ancient heritage. Do you think that Sri Lanka after being disciplines by a hard and bitter peace could pass the torch on to the next generation of Sri Lankans, where the country could move forward?

A: I have no doubt that that is possible. These Sinhalese people and the Tamil people have lived together mainly peaceably for many hundreds of years, perhaps for many as two thousand or even twenty five hundred years.

That can happen again. It will happen again, I have no doubt. To end a conflict of this intensity it takes a lot of goodwill and frankly it will take an impressive capacity to forget. There is a lot that should be remembered of course about what has happened. How can one forget the loss of life, the acts of terror that have been committed? But it won�t do any good to dwell on those acts if one wants to reconstruct this nation as I think both sides do want and move forward. So, a certain amount of forgetting will be called for as well, so that the country can indeed move ahead.


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