SRI LANKA’S ENVOY TO THE U.S. BRIEFS CURRENT SITUATION TO U.S. LEGISLATORS
Ambassador Wickramasuriya in conversation with Sen. James Risch
Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, continued a series of meetings with members of Congress last week to update them on the facts of the conflict against the LTTE and most importantly to discuss U.S. support for post-conflict development.
Ambassador Wickramasuriya had discussions with more than 20 members from the House of Representatives and from the U.S. Senate, some of whom had been previously critical of the conflict.
The discussions focused on the plight of the innocent civilians trapped by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the government’s efforts to conduct hostage rescue missions and the calls from some Western governments for a ceasefire.
Ambassador Wickramasuriya related the stories of those civilians who have escaped the LTTE, noting how they were shot at as they fled and the difficult conditions they had lived under when held by the LTTE. Ambassador also compared LTTE tactics to those of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that are well known in the U.S.
The members of Congress pledged their support for the fight against terrorism, while several noted their concern for the trapped civilians. Ambassador Wickramasuriya explained in detail the actions taken by the government to protect the trapped civilians, and noted that the LTTE was wrongly blaming the government for the civilians’ plight.
Several members offered their support of the Sri Lankan government. Some of those who met with Ambassador Wickramasuriya have recently been to Sri Lanka. They praised the country and stressed the need to end terrorism in Sri Lanka. One member even said an LTTE suicide bombing occurred during his visit.
Ambassador Wickramasuriya used maps, photographs, and aerial pictures of civilians fleeing the conflict zone to demonstrate what the civilians had experienced.
One member of Congress, Rep. Mike McMahon, asked why a ceasefire would not help the civilians? Ambassador Wickramasuriya answered that previous ceasefires with the LTTE have failed. Ambassador noted in the meetings, a ceasefire would allow the LTTE to rearm and regroup. The recent two-day unilateral pause in the conflict, he noted, allowed the LTTE to fortify defenses to keep the civilians form escaping.
He showed Congressman McMahon pictures of LTTE militants aiming guns at groups of civilians, as well as the earth bunds that kept civilians under LTTE control.
During the meeting with Sen. James Risch, a Republican from Idaho, Ambassador noted that the Sri Lankan government’s view is not always represented during Senate hearings on the conflict.
“It’s nice to hear the other side,” Sen. Risch said, noting that he now understands the situation in the conflict zone.
Support in Congress is important for the Sri Lankan government, which has asked for aid from the U.S. and West for post-conflict activities. The pro-LTTE lobby in Washington has become more active as the LTTE’s prospects in the conflict have diminished.