March 30, 2009

Chairman Kerry Urges Sri Lankan President to Protect Civilians

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry sent a letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing his grave concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in that country and its government's failure to allow humanitarian groups full access to provide relief. Senator Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Committee, released a statement last month calling on both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to protect the lives of displaced civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

"I'm deeply troubled by the Sri Lankan government's failure to protect its citizens from the ravages of a brutal campaign," said Chairman Kerry. "Increasing numbers of civilians have been killed or wounded in the 'no-fire' zones, and both the Tigers and the government forces share responsibility. The Tigers are a terrorist organization with a quarter-century of blood on their handsbut the government of Sri Lanka has a responsibility to protect the lives of all of its citizens.

"The text of the letter is as follows:Mahinda RajapaksaPresident of Sri Lanka'Temple Trees'Colombo 3Sri LankaDear President Rajapaksa:I am writing to express my grave concern regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. As you may know, on February 24th, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia held a hearing on the crisis in Sri Lanka. During this hearing, witnesses described horrific atrocities by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including the use of civilians as human shields. The LTTE's blatant disregard for human life underscores why the United States designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization. Let me personally convey my condolences for the innocent victims of the March 10th bombing outside a mosque in southern Sri Lanka and of other incidents of terrorist violence.While the Tamil Tigers have committed egregious acts, I am also alarmed by reports about actions taken by the government of Sri Lanka, especially in the north and east.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that 150,000 civilians are still trapped in the Vanni region, caught between the forces of the government and the Tigers. According to the ICRC, even those fortunate enough to have escaped the fighting remain confined under poor conditions in government internment camps. There are also reports that government troops have shelled civilians and hospitals in the so-called "government safe-zones;" humanitarian agencies and aid workers have had only limited access to provide emergency food, medical aid, and relief supplies; and journalists have been banned from the north, imprisoned, and even murdered.This situation jeopardizes the international standing of Sri Lanka and its relations with friendly countries. On February 2nd, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member, Senator Richard Lugar, and I issued a statement urging you to immediately take all necessary steps to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

We also urged your government to protect all of your citizens and conduct swift, full, and credible investigations into attacks on journalists and other non-combatants. I understand that you recently spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who made similar points. Let me once again emphasize the urgent need for the Sri Lankan government to take all necessary steps to protect civilians, allow humanitarian access to the displaced, and credibly investigate human rights violations by all members of government security forces.As military operations against the LTTE wind down, the people of Sri Lanka will seek your leadership in finding a way to move the country forward after a quarter-century of conflict. You will have the opportunity to start down the path toward a durable and lasting peace through a political solution that acknowledges the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans. As a friend of Sri Lanka, the United States will continue to closely monitor the situationand will stand ready to facilitate a return to the peace and prosperity so earnestly desired by all of its citizens. I appreciate your personal efforts to bring a quick end to this crisis.Sincerely,John F. KerryChairman

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