- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

CAPITOL CAMPAIGN

As his country’s military mounts a final offensive against cornered insurgents, Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Washington is mounting a diplomatic offensive in Congress to counter international critics who fear for civilians trapped in a narrow rebel enclave.

Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya met with six House members last week and plans to continue his Capitol Hill campaign into May. He said his basic message is that the Sri Lankan government is trying to prevent civilian casualties but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels are holding them hostage and risking their lives.

“Our main purpose is getting the civilians out of danger,” he said in an e-mail, describing his meetings. “The Tigers are firing at civilians who are fleeing.”

The ambassador noted that the government has established camps that are housing tens of thousands of ethnic Tamil refugees who have fled the Tigers, who are holed up in a coastal strip in the northern part of the South Asian island nation.

Several foreign governments have called on Sri Lanka to call a halt to its military assault to crush the rebels and end their 26-year insurrection. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were due in Sri Lanka on Wednesday to press for a cease-fire.

Mr. Wickramasuriya told members of Congress that the rebels would only take advantage of a cease-fire to reinforce their position and tighten their grip on the civilians. Thirty House members recently signed a letter to the Sri Lankan government calling for a cease-fire.

The ambassador said he received support last week in his meetings with Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Joseph Crowley of New York, Mike Ross of Arkansas, Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Mr. Van Hollen lived in Sri Lanka when his father was U.S. ambassador there from 1972 to 1976.

LEAVING SRI LANKA

Robert Blake, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, will be returning to Washington soon to serve as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs.

Mr. Blake, a career Foreign Service officer, has been ambassador in the South Asian nation since September 2006. He is a former deputy chief of mission to India.

Mr. Blake’s responsibilities will include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

ENVOY TO MEXICO

Mexico says it will accept a Cuban-American diplomat as the new U.S. ambassador, although the White House has yet to announce his nomination.

The Foreign Ministry in Mexico City last week confirmed that Carlos Pascual, a career Foreign Service officer who earlier served as ambassador to Ukraine, is the candidate President Obama plans to select.

The process of a foreign government approving the credentials of a potential ambassador is the first step in the appointment. Mr. Pascual will also have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Clinton nominated Mr. Pascual for the ambassadorship to Ukraine in 2000. He also served under President Bush in Kiev and is currently a foreign-policy specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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

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