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Armitage Remarks at Sri Lanka Donors' Conference

U.S. Co-Chair Opening Remarks at Sri Lanka Donors' Conference

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State Akasaka Prince Hotel Tokyo, Japan June 10, 2003

Released by the U.S. Embassy-Tokyo Press Office

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, Foreign Minster Kawaguchi, Ambassadors, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. May I first begin by thanking the government of Japan, and more specifically Special Envoy Akashi, for hosting this conference and for acting together with our Norwegian and European Union colleagues as co-chairs.

As Prime Minster Koizumi alluded to a few moments ago, we are all aware that the monsoons started early this year in Sri Lanka, and the country saw its worst flooding in 50 years. Hundreds of people lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes and everything they had. The government of Sri Lanka was quick to respond to the human tragedy. The LTTE also collected assistance for those affected by the floods. Many nations and many international organizations came to the aid of the Sri Lankan people with life-saving donations of food and of money. Today the flood waters are subsiding, but a certain conviction has lingered behind: The LTTE, the government of Sri Lanka, all the people of that nation and the international community we cannot afford to come together like this only when disaster strikes. We must also respond to opportunity. It is far cheaper in terms of money, and in terms of human life, to invest in peace and to invest in prosperity, than to wait for disease, war and disaster to extract their terrible tolls.

This is what Prime Minister Koizumi s commendable and innovative new foreign assistance program the Consolidation of Peace Initiative is all about. And this is the philosophy underlying the international activities of Norway, which has backed up its commitment to world peace and development with hard work and with cold cash in some two dozen countries. The United States also is following the cutting-edge trend with programs such as the Millennium Challenge Account and the HIV/AIDS initiative, which President Bush just signed into law.

So I congratulate you for joining with us today and for coming together to make an important investment in the future. Sri Lanka is a small country. It may seem remote to many of our day-to-day concerns, but success in this instance will bring national, regional and international benefits, and will forestall the various costs that we can all bear from such a conflict. It will also demonstrate that the world community is capable of acting peacefully to preempt human suffering. So I am delighted to be here today to represent my country and our commitment.

Just a few years ago, the United States was considering discontinuing our development assistance program to Sri Lanka, given the on-going conflict. But today we re supporting dozens of projects in all areas of the country, including the north and including the east, everything from clearing landmines to constructing new schools. And in the course of this conference, the United States will pledge an additional $54 million to this effort, not just for the reasons I have mentioned, but also because my country believes certainly I believe in the prospects for peace in Sri Lanka, and in the vision of my friend, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.

To date, this peace process has seen much progress. Indeed, so much that only the truly thorny issues are left. Consider, for example, that 300,000 refugees have already expressed their confidence in the process by returning home to war-torn areas, exceeding expectations, and in the process nearly overwhelming relief efforts. But there are 800,000 more waiting in the wings. I think that is a good indicator of the special challenges of success in this instance.

So it is hardly surprising that the rate of progress in peace negotiations has slowed. I know that this is a difficult time for Sri Lanka. Certainly the LTTE has expressed their frustration that so little international assistance has arrived in the northern and the eastern areas of the country. And I can understand that frustration. The delivery of aid to these areas has to improve if people are to have faith in the process. I believe the government understands that and can and will do better. But it will be difficult for them to do that alone, and indeed that is exactly the kind of issue that should be discussed and can only be resolved around a negotiating table. I believe it is time for the parties to delineate and agree to a shared vision, not only of where they want to end up, with a federal structure based on internal self-determination, but also of interim steps that will carry them in that direction and will lead the country to that destination. So I m making today a personal appeal to the LTTE: prove to your people, to all the people of Sri Lanka, and to those donor nations that want to help you, that you are committed to a negotiated settlement. Prove it by coming back to the table.

Now I am aware that there is a certain irony in my urging the LTTE back to the table, given that I did not allow them a seat at my table back at the pre-conference in April. But the fix for that situation is solely in the hands of the LTTE, the organization best known for pioneering the practice of turning its sons and daughters into human bombs. It s going to have to work hard to build trust and to convince the world that it is capable of playing a legitimate role in the political life of Sri Lanka.

And while we ve seen some promising signs over the past 18 months, we ve also seen some troubling signs that old habits continue. The United States would be prepared to spell out the steps we believe the LTTE needs to take to achieve legitimacy, at least in our eyes; but we simply cannot even consider doing so if they refuse to participate in the peace process.

The government of Sri Lanka also will have to take some difficult steps to make progress at this point. Most of these steps, including the economic reforms that are so crucial to reviving all regions of the country, are going to be contentious. There is a risk with any multi-party democracy that such differences of opinion may be exaggerated or misinterpreted by outsiders, and so the challenge for the president and indeed for the prime minister is to demonstrate to the LTTE, and to the international donors for that matter, that even though there may be disagreements between the parties in power, there is unity of resolve and common purpose. To that end, President Kumaratunga s role is especially important. Indeed, a peaceful settlement to the conflict may well depend on the president s blessing. We all know she is committed to peace, and as I have said in the past, she has a spiritually significant role to play in the truth and reconciliation that must take place, and I hope that she will choose to play that role.

As noted, the peace process has reached a point where the momentum is slowing. This is precisely the point where a push from the international community, an infusion of moral and material support, can move the parties and the process forward. We all know there won t be another opportunity quite like this one. Indeed, this is a historic event that can take Sri Lanka to the horizon line of a better future, but only if that is where the people of Sri Lanka want to go, because no matter how much we pledge at this conference, it is ultimately the prime minister, the president of Sri Lanka, members of the LTTE and most importantly of all the people of Sri Lanka, who will have to deliver on the promise of peace.

Special Envoy Akashi, I thank you again, and the government of Japan, for hosting this conference, and for giving us all the opportunity to show our collective will to face the problems and the promise of our times together.

Thank you. [End]

© Scoop Media

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