SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good evening, everybody. Thank you for waiting. We
encountered some unusual traffic this evening and it created a delay in my
arrival here. But Iím glad I made it here. Iím glad to be back in Sri Lanka.
It is a wonderful place to visit. I am always impressed when I come here,
about the great hospitality and the graciousness of the welcome that I
receive from people from throughout society. I really appreciate that
welcome. Iíve had a chance here to meet with a variety of people -- I met
with the president [and] I had time with the foreign minister, both of whom
we saw just recently in New York. I had a chance to meet the defense
secretary, with political leaders from across the spectrum, with
representatives from different communities here in Sri Lanka -- workers,
humanitarian workers, NGO workers -- a variety of people from different
walks of life in Sri Lanka.
People here are facing a critical moment. In our view, it is time to move
forward. It is time to reverse the negative momentum thatís being happening
for the last months, even going back over a year. Recent terrorist attacks,
particularly the ones in Habarana and Galle, demonstrate once again that
violence can lead nowhere. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims
of those attacks. To reverse direction, both sides need to take steps, they
need to cease hostilities, they need to exercise maximum restraint. We are
pleased that the government and the LTTE are committed to peace talks, to go
to Geneva and to begin discussions again.
We think it is important to discuss
all the issues. It is also important to begin a process that can
lead to a serious negotiation, and eventually, to a political solution with
legitimate interest of all the communities: of Tamils, of Muslims, of
Sinhalese. It can be accommodated with a unitary Sri Lanka. We also
need to see steps in all areas of the country to improve the respect for
human rights. We need to see an investigation of the abuses that have been
reported. We need to get to the facts and determine appropriate actions on
some of these things that have occurred in the recent past.
In this regard, I point out that we worked among the Co-Chairs and also with
the government on the appointment of an international human rights
commission. We continue to work on that
we hope there
were some discussions today in Geneva about this. We hope those were
successful because we think the international community can help contribute
to the better respect for human rights throughout the island.
Finally, let me mention the important work that is done by the
non-governmental organizations on this island. Both sides need to help
facilitate that work. Some of these humanitarian organizations have faced a
variety of obstacles in trying to carry out that work. Weíve tried to
address those to the extent that we can. I had chance to meet today with the
Norwegian facilitator, Mr. Jon Hanssen-Bauer. We work very closely with him
-- all the Co-Chairs have. We fully support the Norwegian efforts. We
believe they have been playing an extraordinary role and we are doing
everything we can as Co-Chairs to support the efforts of Norway. I think it
is only through those efforts that we are going to see the kind of political
progress and the kind of progress in peopleís lives that can really make a
It is very clear, that whether you live here or visit here, that people here
deserve to prosper; they deserve a chance to live peaceful and normal lives.
We think now is the moment, with the events in the coming days, with the new
round of negotiations, where we can make a start in the right direction.
That is our hope and that is what we are trying to help achieve, but itís
going to require determination, good will and an effort from people
throughout this island.
With that Iíll be glad to take any questions you have.
QUESTION: Shimali Senanayake for the New York Times. Two questions for you,
sir. You mentioned that we need to investigate human rights abuses. How does
the U.S. feel about the UN involvement in a human rights monitoring
mechanism? Secondly, as the key supporter of Sri Lankaís peace process, what
kind of results do you expect from the Geneva talks on the 28th and 29th.
What would be the international communityís benchmark for success of these
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Very New York Times sort of questions. We need
to start with the basic fact that there is a
democratically-elected government here in Sri Lanka. A democratic
government that is pledged both personally, politically and
constitutionally, to the respect and defense of human rights. Therefore,
that primary responsibility to respect and defend human rights is with the
government. We look to the government to carry out those responsibilities.
We do believe the international community can have a role in
helping -- whether it is with expertise, such as the Australian forensic
team that is here helping with the investigation, or whether it is with the
basic monitoring mechanism to observe the situation, to encourage progress
and look at where that progress could be made better -- that is the kind of
commission that we are trying to put together with the government. They have
suggested that the UN Human Rights Commission have a role in this. They have
suggested that others, including some of the Co-Chairs, have people on this
We see this as a group of people who have a strong interest
in human rights, who know a lot about how it can be respected and pursued
and therefore can observe what the government is doing; observe how the
government exercises its responsibility and also look at the human rights
situation throughout the island and perhaps make suggestions on how they
respect for human rights observance can be improved.
On the next round of discussions, what sort of benchmarks are we looking
for? The basic benchmark is to make a new beginning. As I said, it is time
to reverse the negative momentum. It is time to take a step in the right
direction. It is time for the parties to come to the talks and make a new
beginning, to really begin a series of talks and look to the future and
start discussing all serious issues that do need to be discussed -- the
grievances of the Tamil communities, the respects for the rights of Muslims
on the island, the governing arrangements in the different areas. There are
a lot of serious discussions that need to be held and they are not all going
to be held at once. If this round makes a new beginning, I think we will all
QUESTION: Ambassador, Murali Reddy from The Hindu newspaper. The U.S. has
consistently taken the position that the LTTE should renounce violence. At
the same time, it had also been pressuring Sri Lankan government to hold
talks with the LTTE. Do you think itís going to serve any purpose when LTTE
has not renounced violence? Second, there is a Supreme Court judgment which
has come this week on de-merger; it has caused great deal of concern among
various sections here. Did it figure in your talks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: On the question of renouncing violence,
certainly we are as insistent as anyone is that the terrorist attacks need
to stop. We stand with the government and the people of Sri Lanka in
resisting terrorism. We also believe that at this moment it is important for
both sides to do what they can to lower the temperature, to cease
hostilities that have occurred in recent weeks and months. In the end,
people have to understand that the only real solution to their grievances is
going to be a political one. Both sides, including the Tamil Tigers, need to
commit seriously to political negotiations. They can only do that by meeting
and having talks. Yes, I do think it is important to have the talks even
though the level of violence has gone up in recent months.
On the Supreme Court decision on the de-merger, I have to say that the
timing was rather unfortunate. It raised a lot of questions right before the
next round and I think it is unfortunate in that regard. The merger has for
many years now been one of the fundamental assumptions of the peace process.
It is one of the fundamental assumptions of the whole negotiations and
therefore, I agree it does raise some issues for all the parties, about how
they are going to approach these both in terms of the court decision and in
terms of negotiations. I donít have any formula for that, but it is a very
fundamental issue. In my discussions with various people there is an
understanding of how important it is to the negotiation process and it needs
to be dealt with in that context.
QUESTION: Kamil Zaheer from Reuters. My question is: Given the ferocity of
the fighting, what is your concern -- that if these talks do not succeed,
what is the future for Sri Lanka, in terms of the level of the conflict? The
second separate question is: local newspaper The Island reported, quoting
International Institute for Strategic Studies, that there are emerging links
between Al Qaeda and the LTTE. How seriously does the U.S. take such reports
and how concerned would you be? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: On the second question, Iím afraid I donít have
an answer for you. I havenít seen the report. I donít know how they drew the
connections. So I canít comment on that.
As far as the ferocity of fighting and what happens if it fails. First, we
are not planning on that. We are trying to plan for success. We donít spend
a lot of time in fear of failure. I think it is important for everybody to
commit to the talks, to commit to succeeding and to commit to starting a
process that will lead somewhere. Thatís what we spend our time working on.
Iíll give you the same answers as how the fighting relates to the talks. It
is important to stop the fighting, but it is also to get started in a new
direction with political discussions and negotiations on all the issues,
because in the end the fighting is not getting anybody anywhere. The
fighting is just pushing people in the wrong direction. The only way to go
in the right direction is through the negotiations.
QUESTION: Jeremy Page from the London Times. I understand that youíve been
to Trincomalee on this trip. First of all, I was wondering if you could tell
us a bit about what you did there, who you met. Secondly since the regional
media and defense analysts often suggest that the U.S. has some strategic
interest in Trincomalee, I was wondering if you could clarify whether the
U.S. does have any plans to have a naval base in Trincomalee or to use it
for stopovers or any other purposes? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No. There is nothing like that. I had no
discussions of anything like that. I did spend most of my day in
Trincomalee. I wanted to see the city. I wanted to visit with people there.
I wanted to understand the situation, particularly in regard to this
de-merger decision of the eastern part of the island. I think those of us
who work on these issues need to understand them from the point of view of
the people who live there. I had an opportunity to meet with the Commander
of the Army, with the Government Agent in Trincomalee, with representatives
of different communities, some of whom we work with on our assistance
projects that we carry out in that area. Weíve done $4 million worth of
assistance projects over the last few years. I had a chance to meet with
international non-governmental organizations both the UN-affiliated ones,
and the Red Cross representatives and some of the other individual
organizations to understand how they saw the situation and what they were
dealing with in terms of being able to deliver humanitarian assistance. It
was really a chance for me to take a quick look, but still a personal look,
at the situation out there and hear from a variety of people.
QUESTION: Jeffrey Evarts from ABC News. Recent reports in our newspapers
spoke about the Marine expeditionary force from Okinawa coming for military
exercises in the south. It has raised concern among certain of our left wing
or shall we say more nationalistic groups. Is there any truth to this? Also
what does the government say? You discussed this with the President. Tell us
about it, please.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We have a variety of cooperative military
assistance programs with the Government of Sri Lanka. We think it is
important that they be able to defend the island, the territory and the
people of Sri Lanka, from all forms of attack. We have been talking about an
exercise where we cooperate with them and exercise humanitarian capabilities
above all else. That is one of the obligations that armies have as well. At
the moment our plans have been deferred. Iím sure we will do such an
exercise in the future. We are not going to do one right now for a variety
of operational reasons. We were considering one, but it has been deferred
for the moment. Iím sure we will do it in the future. We have a very
positive relationship with the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan
military and we expect to continue that relationship.
QUESTION: Iím Prasad from the Rupavahini. The recent arrest in United States
shows that the LTTE goes for more sophisticated weapons. Would you believe
that there should be much more international action to curb their interest
for terror and more threat to the world security as they acquire more
sophisticated weapons like SAM missiles?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes. It is not just a question of what kind of
missiles they were trying to buy. It is a question of acquiring arms by
terrorist groups, for terrorist activities. Our view has been that terrorism
is a danger to all of us, in all its forms. We need to stop it, in all its
forms. Whenever we see such activities, whatever the group, whatever the
country, whatever the kind of purchase they are trying to make, we will take
the appropriate action through our law enforcement and other agencies. If
you look around the world, you have seen other countries do this as well. I
donít think there is any question that we are not going to allow that sort
of thing to happen. If we can find it weíll stop it. Iím convinced that many
others in the world will do that as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Iíll do one more. Back in the corner, that
lady, because sheís been so patient and so neglected.
QUESTION: Maheshi Anadasiri from Max Radio/Max TV. Your government has been
in recent times...has been clamping down the financial activities of the
LTTE. Do you think other international community members should be following
suit and what other pressure would you be exerting on the LTTE to reduce
their violence and to push them towards a political solution?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think other governments are following suit, I
mean...not following suit. All the governments are doing the same thing,
because it is the right thing to do. You canít allow terrorist groups to
raise money overseas. I think you all are familiar with the Human Rights
Watch report that was done earlier this year about some of the methods used
in our countries by the LTTE to raise money. We cannot allow that to happen
in our country. We need to stop the finance. We need to stop the supply of
arms. That is what we are going to continue to do through all the
appropriate means that we have as a government and as a law abiding society.
I think there is more than that, though, that should lead the LTTE to
negotiations. The fact is that they have aspirations -- they have
aspirations to satisfy some of the legitimate grievances of the Tamil
community. They have aspirations to see the Tamil community respected and
able to control its own affairs within a unified island. The only way they
are going to achieve those aspirations is through negotiations. There is not
just the negative pressure to push them to talks, but if they want to
achieve anything there should be a positive reason for them to come to talks
and negotiate seriously.