President Mahinda Rajapaksa Clears US Congressman Pallone's Doubts
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
Congressman Frank Pallone, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Caucus, U. S. House of Representatives, met Sri Lanka's President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Millenium Plaza Hotel, New York, on September 18th, 2006. Along with the President, the meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Mr. Mangala Samaraweera; Government's Leader for Peace Negotiations, Health Minister Mr. Nimal Siripala De Silva; Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat Dr. Palitha T.B.Kohona; Foreign Secretary Mr. H.G. Palihakkara, Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Washington Mr. Bernard Goonathilaka; Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam; Sri Lanka's Consulate in Colombia and Venezuela, Mr. Jeff Gunawardena; and Mrs. Anoma Akmeemana who had organized the meeting.
Congressman Pallone welcomed President Rajapaksa to the United States. He briefly addressed the President and his delegation about his concerns regarding the government and the LTTE being still at war, and expressed his frustration that neither side appeared to be commited to peace.
Mrs. Anoma Akmeemana explained to the President that she had asked Congressman Pallone to make a statement in the U. S. Congress regarding the recent events pertaining to Sri Lanka, and that since he had some doubts about the government's role, this meeting with the President would provide the opportunity for clarification before presenting the statement.
The President answered that from the time his Government came into power on November 19th 2005, the LTTE had been trying the patience of the government by persistent, gross violatiions of the Ceasefire Agreement. This included, and was not limited to attacks on the Army, the Police, the Navy and the Naval Patrol of the area, as well as on civilians. The clear intention of the LTTE was to use violence in order to create a massive backlash, the tactic being that they could then appeal to the International community, and citing human rights violations, request international intervention. Because of its sincere commitment to peace, the government had acted with restraint for four months, and in fact was commended for its patience by the International community. The Government's patience was sorely tried, however, when the Army Commander was targeted by a suicide bomber in April 2006, and it was compelled to take retaliatory measures.
Foreign Minister Mr. Mangala Samaraweera and Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva along with Dr. Palitha Kohona then emphasized that from February 2006, the Government had initiated several moves to persuade the LTTE to agree to discussions leading to a negotiated settlement, but with no results. While the government was talking peace, the LTTE had kept on continuing its terror campaign causing several Claymore mine explosions, killings and human rights abuses, and continuing the recruitment of children. The massacre of 64 civilians at Kebithigollava, the assassination of the Third in command of the Army, the killing of Muslim civilians, and the shooting 11 farmers were some of these violations. The LTTE also perpetrated a serious crime against humanity by stopping water to over 60,000 villagers, by blocking the Mahavil Aru anicut.
After listening to this recounting of LTTE violations, Congressman Pallone again questioned about the 17 aid workers killed, and the orphanage that was bombed, to which the President and the group answered, providing precise facts in support of why the so- called orphanage was in reality a training site for LTTE terrorists, as well as the grounds for considering the killing of the 17 aid workers as being a typical LTTE style operation. The President also informed Congressman Pallone that he has ordered an International inquiry, and has invited international forensic experts.
Congressman Pallone said that for the past 10 months or so, the LTTE propaganda machine had been successful in convincing his colleagues about the government's human rights abuses, as well as of several other allegations,against the government, but the Sri Lankan community within the USA had not done enough to keep the Caucus informed. Replying to this, Mrs. Anoma Akmeemana said that unlike in previous years when she had kept Congressman Pallone informed, she had unfortunately been away for the past one year and had been unable to keep Congressman Pallone in particular, and the Caucus members briefed about the on-going situation in Sri Lanka.
Finally, Congressman Pallone asked the President how far he would go towards a negotiated settlement. The President replied that he would never agree to divide Sri Lanka, but was willing to go the extra mile to meet the LTTE leader if he has to do so, and sit down with him and come to a negotiated settlement, within a unitary Sri Lanka.
Congressman Pallone said that he now had a clearer understanding of the situation in Sri Lanka. He also acknowledged that he was very happy to have met the President of Sri Lanka and his delegation at this meeting, and added that he would make a statement in the Congress soon.