- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR?

The ambassador from Sri Lanka sent New Year’s greetings this week to immigrants from the South Asian island nation living in the United States, noting that this was the first time in 26 years that the Buddhist and Hindu holiday was celebrated in peace.

“What better time to forget past differences and begin anew,” said Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya. “At long last, the fight against terrorism has been won and signs of stability and future development are everywhere.”

The Sri Lankan army in May defeated the last remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, rebels widely regarded as terrorists who targeted civilians with suicide bombers and conscripted children as soldiers. Founded in 1976 as a separatist movement because of discrimination by the ethnic Sinhalese majority, the rebels turned violent in 1984 and held vast areas of the island at the peak of their uprising.

Mr. Wickramasuriya urged both Tamils and Sinhalese in the United States to work as “one community” to support the reconstruction of Sri Lanka.

“It is more important than ever that we converse openly and combine our efforts to help everyone in Sri Lanka as the recovery continues,” he said.

The new year fell on Tuesday under a calendar used by adherents to both religious movements. Sixty-nine percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, while 7 percent are Hindu. Other religions make up the rest of the population of 21 million.

The ambassador also said Sri Lankans should consider the Jan. 26 presidential election and the April 8 parliamentary elections as “important signs of progress.” President Mahinda Rajapaksa won re-election, and his United People’s Freedom Party won a landslide in parliament. However, the president’s main opponent, Sarath Fonseka, rejected the outcome and pledged to contest the results in court. He was arrested on Feb. 8 and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

Although Mr. Fonseka was the army commander who crushed the rebels, he was widely supported in Tamil regions in the north and east of the country.

In the United States some Tamil activists continue to hold deep suspicions of the Sri Lankan government.

“Mr. Rajapaksa’s new government needs to reach out to the Tamil community and repair the economic, personal and physical wreckage from nearly three decades of fighting,” Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor this month.

“The Tamil community must be reassured that they are safe on the island and can truly call it their home.”

TRADING WITH ISRAEL

U.S. and Israeli officials Thursday will celebrate the 25th anniversary of a trade agreement that was born during a spy scandal.

The U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement has boosted commerce between the two countries to nearly $63 billion a year and created a “large and diverse U.S.-Israel economic relationship,” according to a paper that will be released at a press conference with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat; Israeli Commercial Attache Ohad Cohen; and Edward Gresser, president of the Democratic Leadership Council.

President Ronald Reagan signed the trade agreement on June 11, 1984, and it went into effect on Sept. 1. However the negotiations were overshadowed by a spy scandal involving an unnamed Israeli diplomat who passed classified documents on the U.S. negotiating position to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The FBI conducted a three-year investigation, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute anyone.

The press conference will begin at 8:45 a.m. in room SDG-11 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail [email protected]

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