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Mr. Burns' candid remarks

THE wide-ranging remarks made by visiting US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns at a press conference in Colombo on Monday should serve to put in perspective the worries and anxieties of all Sri Lankans who have been wondering what the LTTE has been up to since the new Government took office.

While on one hand seeming to make gestures towards the Government's own avowed commitment to peace the LTTE has been seeking to provoke the armed forces into a confrontation by sending off claymore mines, attacking the forces and mobilising civilians into a collision course with the armed forces.

There is also a subtle campaign afoot to show the international community that the new Government is preparing for a war and to paint the LTTE as the wronged party.

In this context Mr. Burns has made two very salient points. One is to urge the LTTE to give up violence and return to the path of negotiations and the other to emphasise that the Sri Lankan Government is duty bound to protect its citizens from terrorist violence.

On the first score Mr. Burns has certainly not held back his punches. He has said that no government could have any relationship with the LTTE as long as it believed in settling its grievances through the barrel of a gun, perhaps unwittingly echoing the late Chinese President Mao Ze-Dong who propounded the famous thesis that all political power flows from the barrel of a gun.

On the second score the US Under Secretary has been even more explicit and his observations are worth quoting in full. He said: "we are trying to show our support to the Government by providing military assistance and training for officers, military exercises between our troops and the Government so that the Government can be strong and deter future attacks to protect the people".

This is particularly timely in the context of the LTTE's concerted global campaigns to portray the Sri Lankan State as militaristic. On the contrary it is the view of the US Government that the Sri Lankan Government should be strong so that if can deter the LTTE's future attacks and protect the people.

It should then be clear that just as the LTTE as an anti-systemic group should eschew violence, the legally-constituted Sri Lanka Government is morally bound to protect its citizens from terrorist violence.

From this flows Mr. Burns' further and very pertinent declaration that there is no moral equivalency between the LTTE and the Government.

This too has to be taken in the context of the LTTE's attempts to project themselves on par with the Government and portray themselves as the "sole representatives of the Tamil people." Mr. Burns then has drawn a clear demarcation between the Government and the LTTE and while urging the need for renewed negotiations denied the LTTE the moral high ground.

That then is the lay of the land. No regime is perfect but the gravamen of the US argument is the dividing line between regime and anti-systemic group.

There is no option but negotiations and here too Mr. Burns' remarks deserve to be quoted in full. He says: "I think it is incumbent upon all the friends of this country to band together and send a message to the Co-Chairs group that we support peace and will do whatever we can diplomatically to prepare the road for peace".

The message then is clear and straight forward. A combined effort is needed by Sri Lanka's global friends and the Co-Chairs group to morally persuade the LTTE to abandon violence and opt for a negotiated settlement with an open mind. On the part of the Government the path is open for a peace which will be honourable for all.

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