Sri Lanka
The LTTE cannot be defeated militarily, US tells Sri Lanka
Feb 25, 2007 - 10:11:07 AM

New Delhi, Feb 25 - Describing the situation in Sri Lanka as 'serious', the US envoy to the island nation has warned against attempts to underestimate the Tamil Tigers and asserted that they cannot be defeated militarily.

Ambassador Robert Blake also said in a telephonic interview from Colombo that his country 'respectfully disagreed' with those in Sri Lanka who feel a military solution was possible to end the dragging Tamil separatist campaign.

The ambassador, who took charge in September 2006, made it clear that only devolution of powers that satisfy the 'legitimate aspirations' of the Tamil minority could be the basis for any negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -.

Blake's comments to IANS came as thousands of Tamil civilians began fleeing northern Sri Lanka amid fears of full-scale war and a declaration by the LTTE that it was resuming its 'freedom struggle'.

'The situation is serious but there is light at the end of the tunnel,' said the envoy, whose country is a key and most outspoken member of the international community that oversees Sri Lanka's now virtually dead peace process.

He said a majority in the southern part of Sri Lanka, populated mainly by the dominant Sinhalese community, felt that 'a military solution is possible. We respectfully disagree. The LTTE cannot be defeated militarily without a parallel political strategy to address the grievances of the Tamil community...

'I don't think a military solution is possible without a parallel political strategy. The LTTE has significant capability to attack, using terrorist means. We should not underestimate that. I think there would be costs - to a military strategy. The most important thing in our view is to come up with a credible - process.'

Blake, however, suggested that while he thought that Sri Lanka remained committed to peace despite the military pursuing a military strategy, the LTTE's credentials vis-a-vis a negotiated settlement were doubtful.

'The government is committed to peace. Every time I speak to - and senior members of the government, they assure me they are committed to a peaceful settlement. I have no reasons to doubt that.

'The military believes in a military solution but the policy of the government is to pursue -. At this point of time, without a proposal, there is nothing to negotiate over.

'As for the LTTE, I cannot say if they are committed to peace. Their record of 20 years shows they have never seriously pursued the peace option. The government will have to soon give them a chance to see if they are ready to negotiate in good faith.'

The internationally backed Norwegian-sponsored ceasefire agreement - signed by Sri Lanka and the LTTE entered its sixth year Feb 22 with all signs pointing to a war again in the island.

According to peace monitors, some 4,000 Sri Lankans, mainly Tamil civilians, have been killed in fighting and tit-for-tat attacks and more than 200,000 people, again mostly Tamils, displaced from their homes in the past 15 months. Thousands of Tamils have fled to India while abductions have become routine in parts of Sri Lanka.

'Since last year, the human rights situation has also deteriorated,' Blake said. 'There is therefore an urgent need to end the fighting and resume talks - a negotiated settlement.'

He said the US believed that a body representing almost all political parties and tasked to come up with power sharing proposals provided an important opportunity to achieve peace.

'We very much hope the proposals that emerge will be credible and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people in particular but also of the other communities. This could be the basis for the talks between the government and the LTTE...

'The most important thing is the government has an opportunity. It must come up with a credible solution. They have the votes in parliament. There is very strong evidence that - will support a credible solution. That would be a major, major step forward.'

The ambassador pointed out that there had been 'very significant consequences' for the failure of the LTTE to settle for peace since the last round of talks in Geneva that ended in a fiasco. 'We think there is a strong incentive for both sides to go back to the table.'

But irrespective of what happens, he said 'we cannot imagine a situation' when the US would support an LTTE state, which for all practical purposes now exists in parts of Sri Lanka's north and where Colombo's writ does not run. 'The US takes a very hard line regarding the LTTE.'

Asked if India needed to play a more pro-active role, Blake said he disagreed with the surmise of the question.

'India is already playing a very active role and is a major if not the pre-eminent player in Sri Lanka. The US cooperates very closely with our Indian friends on the situation in Sri Lanka. I don't see any difference in our analysis of the situation or what needs to be done. We will continue our cooperation with India.'

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