- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tamil Tiger excuses

The ambassador from Sri Lanka dismissed assertions by the Tamil Tigers, after the rebels shelled military helicopters this week carrying foreign envoys, including the U.S. ambassador, who was slightly injured.

The rebels, widely accused of using terrorist tactics in their fight for an ethnic-Tamil homeland, complained that the Sri Lankan army should have informed them that the helicopters were carrying diplomats on an inspection tour Tuesday of development projects in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, speaking from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, said his government never releases information about military flights to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government and the rebels signed a cease-fire agreement in 2002 to end more than two decades of warfare, but the pact has been frequently violated by rebel attacks and government responses.

“Since the signing of the cease-fire agreement in February 2002 and even prior to that, there was never a practice of providing information in advance to the LTTE of aircraft movement,” he said.

Mr. Goonetilleke said that the Tigers frequently try to blame the government for conditions that the rebels, themselves, create.

“It has been the practice of the Tamil Tigers to complain to the international community about humanitarian situations faced by civilians in the north and east [of Sri Lanka]. However, they do everything possible within their means to prevent relief supplies from reaching civilians. This is done with the dual purpose of creating a humanitarian crisis and blaming it on the government,” the ambassador said.

He called the attacks another sign of “callous disregard for human life and defiance in the face of international censure against Tamil Tiger terrorism.”

U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake and Italian Ambassador Pio Mariani were treated for minor wounds from the mortar attacks. The ambassadors from Canada, France, Germany and Japan, who were also on the flights, were unharmed.

Poker face

John D. Negroponte leaves today on his first official trip as deputy secretary of state, traveling to Japan, China and South Korea. U.S. diplomacy with North Korea and China’s relations with Iran will be high on his agenda.

Mr. Negroponte on Tuesday was sworn in as the 15th diplomat to hold the second-highest post at the State Department, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling him a “legend” and President Bush attending the ceremony to show his high regard for the man he brought out of diplomatic retirement to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and later to Iraq and most recently as the first Director of National Intelligence.

“I know him to be a man of vision and character,” Mr. Bush said. “He understands the important of fighting extremists with all elements of national power. He is a good negotiator. It doesn’t hurt that he plays a mean game of poker.”

Miss Rice recounted Mr. Negroponte’s career since the Cold War days of the Eisenhower administration, when he first entered the State Department.

“He has served every president since, and now this legend of American diplomacy returns home,” she said.

Miss Rice noted that Mr. Negroponte’s career took him to danger zones, including Vietnam in the 1970s and to Honduras in the 1980s during the anti-communist resistance to Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime.

“Our nation has the finest diplomat corps in the world, and we’re asking more of them today than ever before,” she said. “Many are on the front lines in some of the toughest places in the world, serving shoulder to shoulder with our men and women in uniform and risking their lives for the sake of our country.”

Mr. Negroponte, who first retired from the Foreign Service in 1997, noted the “rewards in these risks.”

“It is important to keep in mind that we take them for compelling reasons,” he said. “America’s freedom, security and values are at stake.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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