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Press Conference on Tokyo Donors Conference

Press Conference on Tokyo Donors Conference

Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi, and European Commission and European Commission Director General for External Relations Herve Jouanjean

Loy Henderson Conference Room
Washington, DC
November 21, 2006


UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I hope all of you can hear me. I'm pleased to welcome you to the Department of State and to Washington, D.C., for those of you coming from overseas. The United States has been very pleased to host today another meeting of the Co-Chairs Group on Sri Lanka on the Tokyo Donors Conference. Those countries and organizations represented are Norway and the European Union, Japan and the United States. And to my left is Erik Solheim, the Minister of International Development of Norway. Herve Jouanjean who's the Deputy Director General Asia Director at the European Commission and Yasushi Akashi who's a Special Envoy of the Government of Japan.

We have been meeting here for two days at the State Department to take account of the very tragic and deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. I can say I think for all of us that we're all very much disturbed by the increased level of violence, the killings that have taken place in Sri Lanka over the last several months. And all of us are united in asking the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the LTTE to cease and desist from violence, to affect a ceasefire and to return to the negotiations. We also support very, very much what Mr. Solheim, the Norwegian Government, have been doing to try to mediate, try to bring these parties together and to try to find a solution that will lead to lasting peace in Sri Lanka itself.

You will shortly have a statement that has been agreed to by all of us that represent our views. We'll pass that out to you as soon as we possibly can, in a matter of moments, but since you don't have it in front of you let me just read a few portions which will give you a headline and give you a sense of what we've agreed.

The Co-Chairs view with alarm the rising level of violence in Sri Lanka that has led to significant loss of life and widespread human rights violations. We condemn the continued and systematic ceasefire violations by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as by the LTTE. We call upon both sides to seize this opportunity which we believe to be a historic opportunity created by the 2002 ceasefire agreement to resolve the country's conflict peacefully. The Co-Chairs particularly condemn the LTTE for initiating hostilities from heavily populated areas and the Government of Sri Lanka for firing into such vulnerable areas and killing and wounding innocent civilians. The Co-Chairs call on both sides to respect international humanitarian law and to set aside demilitarized zones to protect internally displaced persons.

The Co-Chairs also recall the responsibility of both of these parties to guarantee the security of the Sri Lanka monitoring mission to fully exercise its mandate. The Co-Chairs were disturbed by the incident on November 8 when the head of mission of the monitoring mission came under fire. We remind the parties of their responsibility to respect all of the rulings of the monitoring mission.

The Co-Chairs welcome the Government of Sri Lanka's progress in establishing a commission of inquiry for human rights with international observers. We condemn the growing violations of human rights by both sides and the fear that pervades civil society and politics and the media. The commission of inquiry and the government should work promptly to bring the perpetrators to justice and to address the climate of impunity.

We are mindful that it is the civilians and the citizens of this country that are caught in this crossfire and that are so often the victims of this conflict. And our responsibility as governments and as institutions must be to those people to help protect them and to remind the government and the LTTE of their responsibility to protect innocent human life.

Finally, the Co-Chairs urge both parties to depoliticize the issue of humanitarian access and for the immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of the sea and road routes for humanitarian convoys and essential supplies. As a first step towards this objective, the Co-Chairs welcome the readiness of the Government to send one convoy via the A9 highway to Jaffna and to allow international nongovernmental organizations with a proven track record immediate access to uncleared areas to restart their relief work. The Co-Chairs call on the LTTE to cooperate with this initiative. It is imperative that this kind of humanitarian relief reach the civilian population that is badly in need of it.

That is a summary of the joint statement to which we've agreed. You'll soon have a written version of this and you can look at those words and hopefully report them to the people of Sri Lanka and to both sides. I wanted to thank again the heads of delegation for being here in Washington, D.C. It's been a pleasure to host them and we hope very much that we can be successful in convincing the government and the LTTE to adopt a more meaningful and more responsible path towards peace.

I should also note that we met with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Government of India, Mr. Jassal, just now following our meeting to brief him on the results of the meeting and also to seek the views and support of the Indian Government. And we're very grateful for the role that India's playing, a responsible role, also to fulfill this mandated peace.

With that by way of summary, I think all of us would be very happy to take your questions. If you could just identify yourself by name and organization, that would also be helpful to us.

Yes sir.

QUESTION: The group has been --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think there's a microphone, if you would just wait for it. Why don't you come and give this individual a microphone. Thank you.

QUESTION: How long -- it's Parameswaran from Agence France-Presse. How long more would the group be giving the -- both sides to come up to a amicable solution to the dispute? I mean, it's been going on for a long time. The Contact Group has met so many times around the same tone, the statements have been issuing both -- asking both sides to come to the table, but there seems to be no solution to the problem.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: So your question is how long do we intend to meet together, the Co-Chairs?

QUESTION: Yes.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think all of us -- I'll be happy to start as the host and ask others to comment as they wish. We are dedicated to fulfilling the international mandate for a peace in Sri Lanka. All of us, I can speak on behalf of my own government, we have a very good and close relationship with the Government of Sri Lanka, but we want to see the government work on a responsible basis to move towards peace and we wish to see a reciprocal gesture from the LTTE. And so we can't simply give up because the work is hard. It's our responsibility as governments and institutions that have some influence in the country to use that influence on a responsible basis.

And I think what's important about the Co-Chairs is that we're all united. We work together. We particularly work to support Minister Solheim and we stand by him and the excellent work that he and the Norwegian Government have been doing for many years. And we again today reaffirm our support for his mission. The goal is to have the parties agree to a ceasefire and then to have them move back towards negotiations and have those negotiations end up in peace and stability for the people of the country.

But I should ask others if they want to answer that very basic question.

MR. AKASHI: I think you have summarized our common views. Of course, we hope that the end result of durable peace will be achieved as soon as possible. We are impatient to see some concrete results. But we know also that there's a long history behind this conflict and all of us are determined to work for a most expeditious durable peace.

MR. JOUANJEAN: Just to add that from the European Union side, we are as well committed to the process. We are fully supportive of Norway and we spare no effort to help Norway as a facilitator, as a member of our group. We will bring our support to any initiatives on the ground to bring peace.

MR. SOLHEIM: There is not much to add because we very much share and understand and (inaudible) impatience which is in your question. I mean there is absolutely no doubt that we are also very much impatient. And I think time has come for a complete respect for the ceasefire and immediate move to the -- to peace talks to sort out this problem. Because even more impatient than us, we believe that the different peoples of Sri Lanka are because they are suffering from these. And the present atmosphere of fear in the land where the disappearances, where the killings, where civilians are deliberately target by both sides and the civilians are both coming into the crossfire between the two sides is a completely unacceptable situation. And a lot of people are coming to us and asking what we can do to make certain that they can come out of this (inaudible) situation. But at the end of the day, just to add that, of course, it's the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE who can make peace in Sri Lanka. We can be of support to them, but it's their responsibility to make peace.

QUESTION: Foster Klug with the Associated Press. Was there any talk, discussion of financial or other types of assistance that might be provided to help the peace process? Or were there any specific strategies that you determined during your meetings?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'll just answer for my own government. We, of course, are a friend to the Sri Lankan Government and we do have an assistance program for that government, in fact, a very intensive one and we intend to continue that of course. We hope that the assistance that we provide, the varied assistance to the government, will contribute to this larger cause of peace in Sri Lanka itself.

MR. AKASHI: As you know, in June 2003, following the ceasefire agreement reached in the previous year, the Government of Japan organized an international conference for rehabilitation and development of Sri Lanka and collected pledges amounting to $4.5 billion. The great bulk of this has already been delivered by the way of pledge to close linkage between the peace process and the assistance process. The more progress there is on the peace front, I'm sure that all the governments and the organizations which made original pledges are prepared to be even more generous. But what has been happening lately has been rather negative to the hoped for consequences. So we'll keep reviewing the situation and appropriate mix of incentives and disincentives has to be always weighed and considered.

MR. SOLHEIM: If I may add that the international community has, in fact, been rather generous towards Sri Lanka, Japan taking the lead in giving long-term development assistance to Sri Lanka. We have been able to share all costs of the peace process as such and there's a great willingness to go with the government and the LTTE as long as they move towards peace, we are ready to contribute financially and in many other ways.

The immediate concern is not even money. The immediate concern is access. And UN organizations and nongovernment organizations, I mean, all involved in humanitarian affairs should be given access to the victims of this conflict on all sides so they can help them. I think money is not really at the moment the critical factor. It's access.

MR. JOUANJEAN: Maybe I can add a word as far as the European Union is concerned. I mean, together with our colleagues we are a major donor of assistance cooperation, assistance to Sri Lanka, acting both in the framework of the Tokyo Declaration as well as in the normal framework of our development policy. The amounts of money are quite huge. We have been acting not only the humanitarian sector, but also on action on the ground, for instance, very active through the de-mining process in the north where a lot of assistance has been granted in the recent years. So I think the four of us are very active there. We have not discussed the future of our cooperation during these discussions.

QUESTION: Sridhar from Press Trust of India. My question is to Mr. Burns. Sir, there has been a lot of writing in the media that there is somehow two different tracks of U.S. policy towards this conflict in Sri Lanka. The hard line espoused by Mr. Burns supposedly is for allowing military offensives for the state of Sri Lanka to preserve the territorial integrity. And supposedly there is a softer line that is pushing for the homeland, you know, of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Can you please clarify for the record what it is that the U.S. is pushing there now in Sri Lanka?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'm very happy to set the record straight if you're confused or if any of your colleagues are confused. The United States doesn't normally have two policies towards one country; we normally follow one. And in the case of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan people and government are a good friend to the United States. We support the government. We have a good relationship with the government. We believe the government has a right to try to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. The government has a right to protect the stability and security in the country. We meet often with the government at the highest levels and consider the government to be a friend to our country.

We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral in this respect. I'm talking about the United States Government now. And therefore we hope very much that the people of Sri Lanka will be able to live in peace in the future.

Now, there are times when the government takes actions that we have to speak out because of our opposition to those actions. There have been, as you know, a number of incidents over the last few months that have given us a great deal of concern about the use of military power against civilians and against aid workers. And we have called on the government and in our direct conversations with the government to establish a committee of inquiry -- the government has done this -- and international observers to help find out the truth of what happened and then to ask the government to hold those people responsible. And we have been apprised by the government just in recent days that they intend to do that.

So that would be a general sense of the United States policy towards Sri Lanka. But we share in this respect with our Co-Chairs partners an abiding hope for peace and for an end to the conflict, and we hope to use the combined influence of the European Union and Japan, Norway and the United States, working with countries like India, to see if we can bring our influence to bear to make some suggestions that might be helpful to the government and helpful in bringing about a ceasefire and peace negotiations. That is our immediate objective and that is the policy of my government.

QUESTION: Can I just have a quick follow-up?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Please.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on how -- what military assistance does the United States provide to the Government of Sri Lanka and whether any of the arms have been used by the government troops in alleged atrocities? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, as I said before, the United States does have an assistance program to Sri Lanka. It is an assistance program first and foremost based on our hope for development of the country, for further trade, investment, for attention to some of the economic and health problems of the country. We are working with Sri Lanka as a partner in counterterrorism as well as counterproliferation. All that is happening. We also do have -- we have engaged in military assistance to Sri Lanka. I can't give you an exact accounting for it, but we'd be happy to take your question and get back to you.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Judy Matthews. I'm with Bloomberg News. And I'm just wondering what kind of leverage really you all can hope to have over the LTTE or way to persuade them to come back to the peace talks?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Gentlemen.

MR. AKASHI: I think there are a number of ways in which the Co-Chairs have been working. Norway has been on the forefront of being a diplomatic facilitator, honest messenger of ideas from both sides. And some of us, like Japan, feel that as the largest donor country to that country we have a certain clout which we use to encourage the government to make imaginative as well as realistic offers of negotiation with LTTE. We have also not severed our relationship with LTTE in the hope that somehow we can try to persuade them that the path of peace is more conducive to a better life for all their people. And in our distribution of assistance we have been very mindful of geographical as well as ethnic balance so that we not only not exacerbate the conflict but ameliorate the conflict. Japan is committed to the policy of not only keeping peace but building peace through economic, social, political and other means. And we are delighted that we are working with the United States, Norway, and as a regional organization EU together, and as mentioned by Mr. Burns, India, even though it is not part of the Co-Chairs, is working hand in hand with us in promoting peace. So I think with regard to LTTE while some of us -- not Japan at this time -- have been exerting more pressures, we feel that our approach of a better life for Tamil people and the nondiscriminatory treatment of all ethnic groups and working with those political elements in Sri Lanka which are for considerable devolution of power or sharing of power. We want to work with them and encourage them so that the peace which is acceptable to the government, to the majority as well as minority populations in that country, which include not only Tamil people but Muslim people can be found.

MR. SOLHEIM: You may add to that, Yasushi and myself have been working with the Tamil Tigers now for, I think, five or six years, so of course we and of course with different Sri Lankan governments in the same period of time. Because there is simply no way the international community can impose peace in Sri Lanka. It must be homegrown in the sense that Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE they must move towards peace then we can all assist them.

What is new, however, and positive was that last month it was agreed between the two side that there are really three tracks in this peace process which have to be discussed at the same time. Number one is the humanitarian suffering of the people, including the long-term economic development. Second is the need for a sustained ceasefire. You cannot simply sit and talk for long in an atmosphere of constant violence. And the third is the political track, how to find a settlement to the Tamil ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.

The two parties have agreed to discuss this. What is the need of the other is for the two sides to agree to a ceasefire which can be the platform for moving forward on all these three tracks. The political track will be more easy than hopefully this present agreement between the two main parties, including ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party. And they come together within the framework of this (inaudible) committee which the President has established. If they then can present the political proposal, of course, it will be much more easy to move forward on the political track. But immediate is simply both parties should cease violence, put a full stop to all sorts of violence (inaudible) and if they do so, we would be able to move rapidly forward.

QUESTION: I wasn't quite sure is the government doing enough, everything that it can from your point of view, to show that it's ready for peace?

MR. SOLHEIM: Well, I think in my role as facilitator, it's very difficult also to be the judge, so I would prefer someone else to answer that question.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'd just say on behalf of the United States that we have faith in the government and faith in the President of Sri Lanka. They do want to make peace. And we are urging the government to choose peace. Now, I think we've all been disturbed, certainly in my government we have been, by the breakdown in the ceasefire. There's been a tremendous level of fighting and bloodshed over the last few months.

So we ask the government to redouble its efforts. We ask the government to seek a ceasefire from the point of view of the United States and I'm just speaking here on behalf of my own government, not certainly on behalf of the Co-Chairs, we see the LTTE as greatly responsible for the present conflict and we are a fierce critic of their terrorist tactics and the fact that so many people have been victimized by those terrorist tactics.

But clearly what we are seeing today, and my government very much agrees with this, is that it takes both sides to agree to peace. It has been both sides that have caused the violence over the last several months. And so any situation like this, it's incumbent upon us to use the influence that we have to try to move both of them, influence both of them to move towards peace. And as Ambassador Akashi has said, they all have to be mindful, both sides have to be mindful of the fact that we are all donors, we are all countries that have influence and we will seek to use that influence for peace and that's why we're together in this Co-Chairs arrangement to see if we can pool our efforts to be influential and to be convincing in what we ask them to do.

Thank you. Any remaining questions?

QUESTION: Other than Sri Lanka?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We're here to talk about Sri Lanka, I can assure you. Thank you very much.

2006/1063

Released on November 21, 2006

ENDS


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