Whilst the United States considered the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group, they are not a threat to the region or part of global terrorism, Washington’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert O' Blake, said last week.
|US Ambassador Blake visited Sri Lankan military forces in Jaffna earlier this month. Photo Sri Lanka Army|
Moreover, Sri Lanka should negotiate a solution to the conflict with the LTTE, who are representing the Tamil people in the negotiations, Ambassador Blake said.
And whilst the US was supporting Sri Lanka to dissuade the LTTE from pursuing the military option to the Tamil question, that did not mean Washington wanted Colombo to prosecute its own war, he said.
Ambassador Blake’s comments came in a lengthy interview with the state-own Daily News, published December 5.
He began by reiterating Washington’s support for Sri Lanka saying: “the US is not neutral in this particular conflict. We have always been a strong supporter of the Government and we consider the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.”
“So we are doing what we can to help the Government through enforcement channels, through military channels to defend itself in the war on terrorism.”
However, Ambassador Blake said, that does not mean the US endorses a military solution.
“All this is to help Sri Lanka defend itself. We have been very clear that our strong interest is in not seeing the military prosecute this war, but to send a signal of strength that will hopefully see the LTTE coming to the negotiating table.”
“After more than 25 years of conflict here, the time has come for peace in Sri Lanka. The real solution for this conflict is a sustained negotiating process that hopefully leads to an agreement of some sort between the two parties.
“We strongly believe that there cannot be a military solution to this particular conflict. [Sri Lanka] tried that for a long time and it has not worked. So we strongly believe that the time has come for a peaceful negotiated settlement to your conflict.”
Asked if Sri Lanka should negotiate with terrorists, he replied: “We do think you can negotiate with the terrorists [and] there have been many different exchanges in the past, in fact six rounds of negotiations in 2002/3.”
Asked if the Sri Lankan government should present its proposals “to the LTTE or the Tamil people?”, Ambassador Blake replied:
“Well, at this point, to my knowledge, the LTTE is the one that is representing the Tamil people in the negotiations. That has been the history of the negotiations to this date, beginning in 2002 and carried to 2003.”
“The answer to this [ethnic] question is not purely a counter-terrorism or a military solution. There also has to be a parallel political strategy where the Government advances a power-sharing proposal of some sort,” he said further.
“We believe that the SLFP-UNP agreement is really the best opportunity to have come along in some time. We very much hope that this effort would succeed and form the basis for proposals that can be tabled at future negotiations.”
Asked about American interests in the island, Ambassador Blake said:
“Sri Lanka is a friendly democratic country in a region that is increasingly important to the US, and a region that is facing some challenges. When you look at places like Pakistan, Bangladesh and other parts like Afghanistan, these are all countries that are facing challenges. So, it is very important for us that there be democratic, multi-ethnic success stories in the region. Certainly India can be that, and we hope Sri Lanka can be that as well. Sri Lanka has the added importance to us of being in the major shipping links in the Indian Ocean.”
Asked if the LTTE was a threat to the region, not only to Sri Lanka, Ambassador Blake replied:
“I do not think so. I think the LTTE has been very careful about confining their operations to Sri Lanka because they are aware of the fact that if they should do so if they not want to antagonise particularly neighbours like India.”
“So they have been very careful and I think they have realised that one of the greatest strategical mistakes they made in their history was targeting Rajiv Gandhi.”
Asked, again, if the LTTE was a threat globally “because they exchange views, knowledge etc. [with other terrorist groups],” Ambassador Blake replied:
“I do not know to what extent they operate globally. I am sure they try to derive lessons as best as they can from the experiences of other terrorist organisations around the world. But, I am not aware of them taking terrorist action in another country, other than the attack on Rajiv Gandhi.”
Asked why US was urging Sri Lanka to talk to the LTTE whilst attacking others it considered terrorists, Ambassador Blake replied:
“I think it is dangerous to make comparisons between one country and the next. Every single country is different. In our case, the terrorists that we are pursuing are mostly stateless organisations like Al-Qaeda that are not based in any single country. They are just out to kill as many Americans as possible, and there is really no point in trying to negotiate with them because they do not have any political objective to speak of.”
“I think the LTTE, by contrast, though surely is pursuing terrorist objectives, has the ultimate political objective to establish some sort of framework where the rights of Tamils can be respected.”
“So we believe that there cannot be a military solution to this, and that there has to be a negotiated settlement where the aspirations of all Sri Lankans; Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others, can be respected.”