- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

Sri Lankan update

The new foreign minister of Sri Lanka introduced himself to President Bush’s diplomatic team and briefed them on the latest developments in the island nation’s long civil war.

Lakshman Kadirgamar told our correspondent Desikan Thirunarayanapuram that he came to Washington last week “to touch base with a friendly government” after parliamentary elections last month led to a change of government in the Indian Ocean country near the southern tip of India.

Mr. Kadirgamar met with several senior members of the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

He said the main focus of their meetings was the ongoing peace negotiations with ethnic Tamil rebels who have been fighting for greater autonomy in the northern part of the island since the 1980s. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

In Sri Lanka, Christina Rocca, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asia, assured government officials that the Bush administration supports their peace efforts but will not have any contacts with the Tigers.

“I am here to assure Sri Lankans both in and out of power that the United States and Sri Lanka have enduring bonds of friendship,” she told Sri Lanka’s Daily News over the weekend.

The Norwegian-mediated talks stalled last year because of disagreements between President Chandrika Kumaratunga of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and former Prime Minister Ranil Wikremasinghe of the United National Party.

The new prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, is from the same party as the president, and Mr. Kadirgamar is confident that the peace talks will pick up the pace again. He said he opposes setting a time frame for reaching a solution because a deadline could impose excessive pressure on the parties to reach a deal.

The Wikremasinghe government was accused of making too many concessions to the Tamil rebels. Mr. Kadirgamar said the new government will ensure that Sri Lanka’s multiethnic character is respected in any deal with the Tamils.

“The previous government kept the [peace] process confined to a few groups,” he said.

The Buddhist Sinhalese make up 74 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 19 million. The mostly Hindu Tamils represent 12 percent, and Muslims are about 7 percent.

Mr. Kadirgamar met a small group of correspondents in Washington on the day a dramatic election upset occurred in India, Sri Lanka’s large neighbor to the north.

The Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi emerged as the winner after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition lost a majority in parliamentary elections.

Tamil Tigers were the prime suspects in the 1991 assassination of Mrs. Gandhi’s husband, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. A Congress-led government in India is expected to renew a request for the extradition of Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran to stand trial in the assassination case.

Afghan culture

Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad is committed to revitalizing Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, as the country continues to rebuild the physical structures destroyed by the extremist Taliban regime.

“Now that we have begun rebuilding Afghanistan, nothing can serve better than art to deliver the message of unity, love and peace,” he said at a recent Afghan Embassy reception that featured thousands of years of Afghan art.

Some 500 guests admired a 17,000-year-old stone sculpture, artifacts from Greco-Buddhist styles between 200 B.C. and A.D. 400, Islamic arts and modern works, including one by a 12-year-old painter.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]om.

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