Tuesday, 18 May 2004  
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Morale-booster from US

Going by the pronouncements of strong support for Sri Lanka and its peace process, by some top officials of the US Government, it could be said that Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's visit to the US has been exceedingly successful and productive. It has helped to further bolster our ties with the US.

Take for instance the statements made by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage, when they met the Lankan Foreign Minister. There was strong endorsement of the Lankan peace process by these officials who pledged strong support to the UPFA Government in our conflict resolution effort. Similar sentiments were expressed by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Asian Region Christina Rocca when she visited Colombo recently.

However, there was continued stress by them on the principled stand by the US Government on the LTTE. This is that the US would have no dealings with the LTTE as long as it did not lay down arms and renounced terror. Besides, the LTTE should abide by human rights principles and ensure - for instance-children are not recruited to its cadres. Unless and until these conditions are met, the LTTE would remain a banned organisation in the US.

Meanwhile, Minister Kadirgamar made it amply clear in the US that although the Lankan Government would be entering into a negotiating process with the LTTE, there would be no pacification of the LTTE. There would be hard-bargaining and a "locking of horns" over the substantive issues in Government - LTTE talks, Kadirgamar said. Rather than one party bending to the will of the other, there will be compromise and a hard bargaining process.

This is in marked contrast to the UNF's pacification of the LTTE, during its two years of high-profile talks in glitzy hotels around the world. While the UNF bent over backwards to accommodate the Tigers, the latter went on an arms shopping and arms transportation spree, under the cover of peace talks. As we know some 11 arms shipments were smuggled into Sri Lanka, while camps were built and human rights abuses nonchalantly committed by the Tigers in the North-East. It was left to President Kumaratunga to restore order by taking over the Defence Ministry.

So, Kadirgamar has set the correct tone for the talks by emphasizing that what would be needed is compromise and hard bargaining but not faint-hearted subjection to the LTTE's will. "There is no way we can grant a separate state. India, US and other countries have said no to a separate state. Something less than that would be welcome", Kadirgamar was quoted saying in Washington.

Sections of opinion have taken the Lankan Foreign Minister to task for this firmness, but it is plain that this is what is required if the peace process is to bear fruit.

It is a two-way street, where both parties to the talks would need to compromise.

As we said yesterday, the road ahead to peace is long and rocky. Sri Lankans in particular would do well to be realistic yet hopeful in the days ahead as the peace process gains momentum.

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