- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Sri Lanka eyes U.N. post

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando yesterday announced he was a candidate for the post of secretary-general of the United Nations.

"Sri Lanka and I are available," Mr. Fernando told Embassy Row, confirming speculation that he would seek to replace Kofi Annan at the end of his term in December 2006. News reports in the capital, Colombo, on Monday quoted unnamed government sources as saying Mr. Fernando would be a candidate.

"Sri Lanka is a model democracy in Asia. We are on the verge of peace. Sri Lanka has made a huge contribution to the U.N.," he said. "It is time South Asia held the office."

No one from southern Asia had served as secretary-general since 1971, when U Thant of Burma finished his term.

Mr. Fernando informed President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell of his decision when he met them on Tuesday. Mr. Bush offered his "good wishes," Mr. Fernando said.

Mr. Fernando is an old friend of the Bush family, having known George Bush since he was vice president under Ronald Reagan.

He also briefed the president and Mr. Powell on the status of peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

"After 20 years of war, we are on the brink of starting peace talks. A cease-fire has held for five months," Mr. Fernando said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe campaigned on a peace-centered platform in the December elections and was savaged by the opposition.

"It was a bitter campaign," Mr. Fernando said. "We were called traitors. But the people were war-weary. The people are yearning for peace."

His party, the conservative National Democratic Union, won the national elections after increasing its strength in local elections earlier this year.

"I want to pay tribute to the people of Sri Lanka," he said.

He said his party took political risks for peace, and that the rebels, who often targeted civilians in their fight for independence from the island nation, must show they would be ready to negotiate autonomy in a unified state.

"They were the inventor of the suicide bomb. Now they have to learn the art of constitution-making," Mr. Fernando said.

"I also want to pay tribute to the United States for backing us in the cease-fire and telling the [rebels] they cannot have a separate state," he added.

Mr. Fernando, in his talks with Mr. Bush, pledged Sri Lanka's continued support in the war on terrorism and discussed the nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan.

He even found time in his three-day visit to see the movie "The Sum of All Fears," about a nuclear terrorist who blows up Baltimore.

"I recommend that the president see it," he said.

Mr. Fernando, on his first Washington visit since becoming foreign minister in December, was here for a meeting of the International Democratic Union, an organization of conservative political parties.

Pakistan still on alert

Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi is breathing easier this week, as her country and India take steps to reduce the crisis that has threatened a full-scale war between the nuclear rivals.

"Now we have to wait and see what Secretary Rumsfeld can do," she told Embassy Row this week.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is due to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today, after talks yesterday in India.

India recalled warships off the coast of Pakistan and reopened its airspace to Pakistani flights after Mr. Musharraf took measures to control the infiltration of terrorists into Indian-held Kashmir. However, the countries still have 1 million troops along their common border.

"Not to minimize the importance of India stepping back from the brink that's important but not sufficient," Miss Lodhi said. "The real test of international diplomacy is to create substantial steps to lead to military disengagement and military demobilization.

"The problem inside Kashmir has not gone away," she said. "The challenge is how to prevent the next crisis from happening."

She said she has had many sleepless nights during past stressful weeks.

"But the problem with stress is it does not burn calories," she said over a lunch of crab cakes at the Monocle restaurant.

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