Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kohona meets US State Dept. officials

Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona met with top US State Department officials on Friday April 10, 2009. The end of the 25-year-long conflict with the terrorist LTTE was at the core of the discussions.

With about 500 LTTE combatants cornered by Government Security Forces in northeastern Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary told Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher that Sri Lankan forces are consistent with government policy, exercising extreme caution to safeguard civilians held hostage in the no-fire zone by the LTTE.

The government believes that 30,000 to 60,000 civilians are held forcibly by the LTTE as a human shield in a small area north of Mullaitivu.

During the cordial meeting, Assistant Secretary of State Boucher reiterated the call by the Tokyo Co-Chairs, – which comprises the US, Japan, the European Union and Norway – for the LTTE to “allow civilians to move freely out of harm’s way.”
The US Assistant Secretary of State also raised the possibility of having an individual meet with LTTE leaders to discuss a surrender under which the LTTE would lay down their weapons.

In talks with the Assistant Secretary of State, the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary vehemently denounced allegations that the Sri Lankan Security Forces are shelling civilians within the government-declared no-fire zone. He said there is no substantiated evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, there is no advantage at all to the Security Forces in shelling civilians.

On the subject of an IMF loan facility sought by Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary noted that Sri Lanka is asking for a standby facility against the backdrop of the global financial crisis.

The Foreign Secretary also noted that it was the government – not the LTTE – that had declared the no-fire zone to protect the civilians the LTTE had “herded” into this small area.

The Foreign Secretary, who was accompanied to the State Department meeting by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Jaliya Wickramasuriya, pointed out that the government has continued to deliver food and medicine to the no-fire zone, and to aid the evacuation of civilians. These supplies, he said, are also being used by the LTTE.
So far, about 65,000 civilians have fled the LTTE areas. More than 3,200 sick or injured civilians and another 4,000 healthy bystanders have been evacuated by ship by the ICRC. Those civilians were moved through government transit centres to welfare villages.

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