- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

Talking to terrorists

The ambassador from Sri Lanka accused the United States and European nations of hypocrisy for pressuring his government to continue negotiations with separatist rebels that the West accuses of terrorism.

The “international position” on talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is “contradictory,” Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke recently told the U.S. Foreign Service Institute.

He quoted Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns as saying, ” ‘The U.S. does not recognize the LTTE. We don’t deal with them. … We have no sympathy whatsoever for the Tamil Tigers.’ Yet he urged [my] government to negotiate with them.”

The United States classified the Tigers as a terrorist organization in 1997. Britain followed in 2001. Canada and the European Union listed them as terrorists this year.

“The Tamil Tigers earned the classification of a terrorist group by hard work and sheer persistence,” Mr. Goonetilleke said.

In their 30-year war for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority, the Tigers were the first to employ suicide bombers against both Sri Lankan military targets and Tamil leaders who opposed the rebels.

The Tigers are “nondemocratic, tolerate no dissent and promote a mono-ethnic one-party … fascist dictatorship,” the ambassador said. Yet the West still encourages negotiations, even after the Tigers walked out of talks in 1985, 1987, 1989, 1994 and 2002, he said.

“The international position on negotiations with the LTTE can best be described as seemingly contradictory, but conditioned by circumstances,” Mr. Goonetilleke said.

He insisted that his government supports negotiations, but is frustrated by the Tigers’ refusal to stick with talks.

Mr. Goonetilleke conceded that steps taken by Sri Lanka after independence from Britain in 1948 created the conditions that led to the rebellion, but he said many of those discriminatory policies have been changed.

He cited a law that now recognizes both the languages spoken by the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority and education reforms that eliminated barriers to admission to universities. The ambassador conceded that land reform remains a problem.

He also rejected the argument of some analysts who see the conflict as a religious one between Buddhist Sinhalese and Tamil Hindus.

“The Sri Lankan conflict is not a religious issue,” Mr. Goonetilleke said, explaining that in most of the island nation, Hindu and Buddhist temples exist “cheek by jowl.”

The population of more than 20 million on the island nation south of India is composed of 73.8 percent Sinhalese, 3.9 percent Tamils of Sri Lankan ancestry, 4.6 percent Tamils of Indian descent, 7.2 percent Sri Lankan Moors and 10 percent of other ethnic groups.

Many Tamils live outside the northern and eastern provinces held by the Tigers because they fled the rebel strongholds, Mr. Goonetilleke said.

Khalilzad quitting

The Bush administration’s diplomatic troubleshooter in the front line of the war on terrorism is expected to resign his position as U.S. ambassador to Iraq within months.

The Associated Press yesterday quoted a senior State Department official who confirmed that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad wants to step down and return to his academic career or join a corporate firm.

Mr. Khalilzad took up his position in Baghdad in June 2005 and has handled the difficult relations among the country’s squabbling Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish communities.

The Afghan-born American diplomat served as ambassador to Afghanistan from November 2003 until he was transferred to Iraq.

On a visit last week to Baghdad, National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte informed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Mr. Khalilzad’s decision, the AP reported.

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

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