Friday, January 4, 2008

US stops military supplies to Sri Lanka, Colombo unfazed

Colombo, Jan 4 - The US said Thursday that it had stopped the supply of military equipment and services to Sri Lanka under the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Act 2008. But an unfazed Colombo said that its critical needs could still be met under exemptions provided by the act.

'It is the policy of the US to deny applications for licenses and other approvals to export or otherwise transfer defense articles or services to Sri Lanka,' a communique from the US State Department Directorate of Defence Trade Controls said.

But it added that licenses might be granted 'on a case by case basis' for the transfer of technical data or equipment for the limited purposes of maritime and air surveillance and communications.

A $500 billion Appropriation bill passed by Congress had said that before any military supplies were made to Sri Lanka, the Secretary of State should certify that Colombo had improved its human rights record in certain specific areas.

Congress had said the Sri Lankan government would have to show that it had prosecuted military personnel who had helped the recruitment of child soldiers or committed extra-judicial killings.

The island's government would also have to show that it had provided humanitarian groups and journalists access to the Tamil areas of the country.

But a top Sri Lankan foreign ministry official, Ravinatha Ariyasinha, told IANS that the US ban would not affect Sri Lanka vitally, thanks to the exemptions mentioned in the Act.

He pointed out that the Act allowed the supply of maritime and aerial surveillance equipment and communication gadgets, which Sri Lanka needed most.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is fighting for a separate Tamil state in the northeast of Sri Lanka, is dependent on the sea lanes to get its military and strategic supplies.

The Tigers also have a nascent air wing that has conducted three raids, two of them in Colombo, in the past year. To curb their sea and air movements, Sri Lanka needs sophisticated communications and surveillance equipment.

Ariyasinha, who is Director General of Communications, pointed out that the US Act had not banned some key US-Sri Lanka defence related programmes, such as training and intelligence sharing.

It has also left untouched the Access and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA), which envisages the exchange of non-lethal material resources and services between the Sri Lankan and US militaries.

Indo-Asian News Service