Assistant Secretary Boucher: Good Afternoon ladies and
gentlemen. Itís a pleasure to be here with you. Itís 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 governmentís 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 Norwayís
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 itís 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 Iíd
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 doesnít 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: Youíre asking
an American to explain a European statement that the government has reacted to.
I think I really have to decline the honor. Iím not a member of the EU. Iím not
really in a position to explain the European Unionís 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. Weíd 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, theyíve continued their provocative acts. Theyíve
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, itís
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 theyíve traditionally inhabited so I donít 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 wonít. If they abandon terrorism and
oneís able to say they are no longer a terrorist organization, then we would
find opportunities to consider [dealing with them].
Question: Iím 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 Communiquť and the Geneva Talks recently.
Do you expect this to happen? And, if not, what will your stance be?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: I donít 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, thereís 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 thatís what the Co-chairs
said. If they donít 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: Iím Ravindran from Oliden Radio.
The donorís 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 donorís conference.
Assistant Secretary Boucher: You mean the Tokyo meeting?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: I donít 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
thatís 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 thatís 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: Thatís an interesting question. In the end
itís going to be a question the Indian government has to answer for itself. What
weíve 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 weíre doing and we can understand what
theyíre doing. I think ultimately what part any of us from the outside play,
whether itís India, the United States, Norway, or anybody else, depends on the
parties themselves. Weíll 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: Iím Raj Balabanaike from the Sunday Times, I mean Sunday
Observer in Colombo. Mr. Boucher, you saidÖ.
Assistant Secretary Boucher: You applying to a new organization?
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 governmentís prerogative to meet these
provocations by way of retaliatory action, etc?
Assistant Secretary Boucher: I donít 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 governmentís 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, Iím Keith Noyher from the Nation. ItísÖ 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 hasnít 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. Itís 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 knowÖ We think
itís 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. Weíve probably done a better job on that than on number two, which
is to support and shepherd and assist with the peace process. Itís 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 havenít gotten far in the last couple of years is not a sign that
we should abandon our efforts. We think itís 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 thatís 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 weíre 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 thatís already something thatís ongoing. I donít know how much that might
change depending on the actions of the LTTE. But, certainly, weíre 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 weíll 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 theyíre occurring.
Governments, Iím sure, donít want this to occur on their territory. But itís a
matter of finding out more closely how itís happening and where itís 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? Itís on a slightly
different issue, actually. Itís on this issue of truce monitors suspecting that
some elements of the military are colluding with a breakaway group Ė this Karuna
group thatís 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 thatís
where we do look for them to do more to carry out the pledge they made in
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
Assistant Secretary Boucher: That gets back to the question before. We
are working with the government in any number of areas. Weíre working with the
government diplomatically on some aspects of the problem; weíre working with the
government directly on economic development questions. I cited the Millennium
Challenge Corporation funding as one of the aspects. Weíre 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 weíll 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.