- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Report card

The foreign minister of the beleaguered island nation of Sri Lanka arrived in Washington long before dawn yesterday, determined to counter critics and persuade the Bush administration to continue providing essential military aid to his nation’s 20-year war against a brutal enemy internationally denounced as terrorists.

“Washington is one of our friends,” Rohitha Bogollagama said. “A country like the United States can assist on all fronts — in spirit, in action and in the development agenda.”

He said his quest is to maintain U.S. support to “strengthen democracy and weaken the terrorists” of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Sri Lanka faces a possible cutoff of U.S. military aid because of an amendment to the State Department appropriations bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. Mr. Leahy suspects the Sri Lankan government of committing human rights abuses against ethnic Tamil civilians, but the appropriations bill allows President Bush to waive the cutoff.

The Bush administration requested more than $1.4 million in military aid for next year.

Mr. Bogollagama said he understands the concerns of human rights groups and noted that his government has convicted 27 soldiers and is investigating dozens of other cases.

Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, who accompanied the foreign minister, added, “We’ve had a large number of arrests, prosecutions and convictions, but unfortunately not enough publicity on them, giving the impression of a climate of impunity.”

Mr. Bogollagama said one of his goals during the three-day visit is to brief members of Congress and State Department officials on the military progress against the Tigers and on efforts to promote democracy and development for the Tamil population in areas liberated from the rebels.

He explained that his government thinks that only a diplomatic solution is possible in the conflict and promotes large measures of autonomy for Tamil areas.

“We don’t believe that the Tigers are the sole representative of the Tamil people,” Mr. Bogollagama said.

He insisted that the rebels are under siege, entrenched in a northern enclave of the island nation south of India.

“We are not going for a military solution … but there is zero tolerance for terrorism,” he said.

The Tigers are designated as a terrorist organization by many nations, including the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia and the 27-nation European Union. Tamil front groups also are outlawed in those nations.

Balking on Burma

China denounced the government violence against pro-democracy demonstrators in Burma but refused to take any action to pressure the military junta to stop its crackdown, a Chinese Embassy spokesman said this week.

China, one of Burma’s main trading partners and arms suppliers, would go no further than to express its concern and call for a diplomatic settlement, writes reporter Sharon Behn.

“We do not endorse arbitrary sanctions,” spokesman Wang Baodong said at a press conference at the embassy. “We think that, for the time being, all parties should work for the betterment of the situation and exercise restraint and avoid steps that might complicate the situation.”

President Bush last week condemned the military government and called for increased international sanctions against Burma.

Mr. Wang said his government recognizes the conflict is “turbulent” in Burma, where the military has killed and jailed scores of demonstrators.

However, he added, “We regard the current situation in the country as an internal affair.”

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

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