Ministry of Defence rejects US concerns

wrongThe Ministry of Defence alleges that perceptions of the Colombo based US Embassy officials about reconciliation in Sri Lanka seem to be fashioned primarily on the interests of pro-LTTE diaspora and likeminded elements within the country. The US mission, it says, largely ignores ground realities as well as the tremendous progress in Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya has issued the following statement on behalf of the Ministry of Defence: “Departing from all accepted norms of respectful engagement, which should characterise diplomatic exchanges between countries, the US Embassy officials in Colombo, continue to make allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka through a section of the press and social media. The attempt appears to be to sensationalize issues rather than find answers to certain concerns that they may have on issues in the country. It is emphasized that this kind of action does not support meaningful engagement at any level.

“The latest comes in the form of comments made by the Embassy Spokesperson regarding the Commission of Inquiry on disappearances and the recent appointment of an international advisory panel. The broad, sweeping allegations made by these officials therein, are without any factual basis.

“In its comments, while welcoming a credible investigation, the US Embassy spokesperson says that there are “numerous reports of widespread threats and intimidation by security forces against witnesses and potential witnesses to the Commission”. To date no evidence to substantiate this claim has been brought to the attention of any Government authority. If indeed the US Embassy was genuinely concerned regarding threats to witnesses, specific details of such incidents and reports should have been made available to the Government for a response. The Government of Sri Lanka rejects unreservedly these baseless and uncorroborated statements and repeated attempts by the US Embassy in Colombo to malign the conduct of Sri Lanka’s security forces.

“Furthermore, it is reported that the Embassy spokesperson expressed concerns on continued attacks against journalists and members of religious minorities, as well as the weakening of the rule of law and increasing impunity for illegal actions. This gives the impression that journalists and members of religious minorities are attacked in Sri Lanka, on daily basis, whilst no action is taken by the Government to enforce law and order and bring perpetrators to justice. Given the sensitivities involved in issues related to religious minorities which impacts on peaceful coexistence among communities in the country, the Government regrets the negligent comments being made by US Embassy officials which are clearly directed towards inciting and aggravating issues. There has also not been a single attack on journalists reported in the past few years.

“It may be noted that all people living in Sri Lanka enjoy freedom of religion, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right. The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to ensuring that this right is protected. This is evidenced by the action taken to address reported incidents of disturbances in the recent past. Action has been taken on those who have contravened the law of the land, once sufficient evidence has been gathered for prosecution. More broadly, religious leaders of all faiths have been consulted at the highest levels in arriving at a mutually acceptable solution to issues that have arisen. In keeping with Sri Lanka’s societal, cultural and historical norms, regular dialogue continues to take place at various levels to ensure interfaith harmony and understanding amongst its diverse populace.

It is therefore unfortunate that isolated, sporadic and media-sensationalised incidents have been misinterpreted as representative of an overall weakening of the rule of law and impunity for illegal actions. However, these routine law and order issues are similar to those faced by many other countries, including the USA and are not endemic to Sri Lanka. The criminal justice system practiced in Sri Lanka has many built in safeguards including the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being beyond reasonable doubt for successful prosecution. As a case in point, there are even instances of senior LTTE cadres being released due to lack of evidence. Such and other instances should not be interpreted as unwillingness on the part of the Government to bring perpetrators to justice.

The Government has asserted clearly on many occasions that if reliable evidence is available in respect of any contravention of the law, the domestic legal process will be set in motion. In this context, the USA is encouraged to share with the Government any specific and credible evidence it has regarding any issue of concern, which will then be duly investigated.

It appears the US Embassy officials are unaware of the factual position with regard to strengthening of democratic freedoms since the end of the conflict in May 2009. The successful completion of so many elections in the North and East, including the Northern Provincial Council election in 2013, is significant in several respects. In particular it is an important milestone in the Government’s policy of restoring full democratic rights to the people in areas previously dominated by a terrorist group. During the three decades of the terrorist conflict, the LTTE did not allow Sri Lankans in parts of the North and East to exercise their democratic rights. Resuscitating democracy in these areas following their liberation during the Humanitarian Operation was one of the key concerns of the Government in the post conflict period. Certain undemocratic armed groups and members thereof have also successfully transitioned into the democratic mainstream. The restoration of law and order and civil administration in these areas in fact strengthened Sri Lanka’s proud democratic traditions and therefore the concerns of the US Embassy on these issues are misplaced.

The US Embassy officials should revisit the 1987-89 period where an insurrection led to numerous deaths taking place across Sri Lanka and compare that to the current peaceful conditions that exist and desist from indulging in exaggerated statements.

Sri Lanka believes that sustainable peace and reconciliation should be achieved through a home grown process based upon its social, cultural and historical context. Because Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation, the process of reconciliation cannot be a response to the concerns of a particular community. Rather, it should be one that is acceptable to all Sri Lankans regardless of their ethnicity or affiliation. The bringing together of communities which have suffered through 3 decades of terrorism requires time and cannot be rushed in accordance with external agendas, nor made to conform to artificial timelines.

In this context, it is particularly unfortunate to note that perceptions of the US Embassy officials about reconciliation in Sri Lanka seem to be fashioned primarily on the interests of pro-LTTE diaspora and likeminded elements within the country. Such perceptions largely ignore the ground realities as well as the tremendous progress that has been made in Sri Lanka in recent years.” (The Island)

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