Press Conference on Tokyo Donors Conference, 21 November 2006
Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, ; Norwegian Minister of
International Development Erik Solheim, Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi,
and European Commission and European Commission Director General for External
Relations Herve Jouanjean
Loy Henderson Conference Room
November 21, 2006
Source: US State Department Washington DC
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I hope all of
you can hear me. I'm pleased to welcome you to the Department of State and to
Washington, D.C., for those of you coming from overseas. The United States has
been very pleased to host today another meeting of the Co-Chairs Group on Sri
Lanka on the Tokyo Donors Conference. Those countries and organizations
represented are Norway and the European Union, Japan and the United States. And
to my left is Erik Solheim, the Minister of International Development of Norway.
Herve Jouanjean who's the Deputy Director General Asia Director at the European
Commission and Yasushi Akashi who's a Special Envoy of the Government of Japan.
We have been meeting here for two days at the State Department to take account
of the very tragic and deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. I can say I think
for all of us that we're all very much disturbed by the increased level of
violence, the killings that have taken place in Sri Lanka over the last several
months. And all of us are united in asking the Government of Sri Lanka as well
as the LTTE to cease and desist from violence, to affect a ceasefire and to
return to the negotiations. We also support very, very much what Mr. Solheim,
the Norwegian Government, have been doing to try to mediate, try to bring these
parties together and to try to find a solution that will lead to lasting peace
in Sri Lanka itself.
You will shortly have a statement that has been agreed to by all of us that
represent our views. We'll pass that out to you as soon as we possibly can, in a
matter of moments, but since you don't have it in front of you let me just read
a few portions which will give you a headline and give you a sense of what we've
The Co-Chairs view with alarm the rising level of violence in Sri Lanka that has
led to significant loss of life and widespread human rights violations. We
condemn the continued and systematic ceasefire violations by the Government of
Sri Lanka as well as by the LTTE. We call upon both sides to seize this
opportunity which we believe to be a historic opportunity created by the 2002
ceasefire agreement to resolve the country's conflict peacefully. The Co-Chairs
particularly condemn the LTTE for initiating hostilities from heavily populated
areas and the Government of Sri Lanka for firing into such vulnerable areas and
killing and wounding innocent civilians. The Co-Chairs call on both sides to
respect international humanitarian law and to set aside demilitarized zones to
protect internally displaced persons.
The Co-Chairs also recall the responsibility of both of these parties to
guarantee the security of the Sri Lanka monitoring mission to fully exercise its
mandate. The Co-Chairs were disturbed by the incident on November 8 when the
head of mission of the monitoring mission came under fire. We remind the parties
of their responsibility to respect all of the rulings of the monitoring mission.
The Co-Chairs welcome the Government of Sri Lanka's progress in establishing a
commission of inquiry for human rights with international observers. We condemn
the growing violations of human rights by both sides and the fear that pervades
civil society and politics and the media. The commission of inquiry and the
government should work promptly to bring the perpetrators to justice and to
address the climate of impunity.
We are mindful that it is the civilians and the citizens of this country that
are caught in this crossfire and that are so often the victims of this conflict.
And our responsibility as governments and as institutions must be to those
people to help protect them and to remind the government and the LTTE of their
responsibility to protect innocent human life.
Finally, the Co-Chairs urge both parties to depoliticize the issue of
humanitarian access and for the immediate, permanent and unconditional opening
of the sea and road routes for humanitarian convoys and essential supplies. As a
first step towards this objective, the Co-Chairs welcome the readiness of the
Government to send one convoy via the A9 highway to Jaffna and to allow
international nongovernmental organizations with a proven track record immediate
access to uncleared areas to restart their relief work. The Co-Chairs call on
the LTTE to cooperate with this initiative. It is imperative that this kind of
humanitarian relief reach the civilian population that is badly in need of it.
That is a summary of the joint statement to which we've agreed. You'll soon have
a written version of this and you can look at those words and hopefully report
them to the people of Sri Lanka and to both sides. I wanted to thank again the
heads of delegation for being here in Washington, D.C. It's been a pleasure to
host them and we hope very much that we can be successful in convincing the
government and the LTTE to adopt a more meaningful and more responsible path
I should also note that we met with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the
Government of India, Mr. Jassal, just now following our meeting to brief him on
the results of the meeting and also to seek the views and support of the Indian
Government. And we're very grateful for the role that India's playing, a
responsible role, also to fulfill this mandated peace.
With that by way of summary, I think all of us would be very happy to take your
questions. If you could just identify yourself by name and organization, that
would also be helpful to us.
QUESTION: The group has been --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think there's a microphone, if you would just wait for
it. Why don't you come and give this individual a microphone. Thank you.
QUESTION: How long -- it's Parameswaran from Agence France-Presse. How long more
would the group be giving the -- both sides to come up to a amicable solution to
the dispute? I mean, it's been going on for a long time. The Contact Group has
met so many times around the same tone, the statements have been issuing both --
asking both sides to come to the table, but there seems to be no solution to the
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: So your question is how long do we intend to meet
together, the Co-Chairs?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think all of us -- I'll be happy to start as the host
and ask others to comment as they wish. We are dedicated to fulfilling the
international mandate for a peace in Sri Lanka. All of us, I can speak on behalf
of my own government, we have a very good and close relationship with the
Government of Sri Lanka, but we want to see the government work on a responsible
basis to move towards peace and we wish to see a reciprocal gesture from the
LTTE. And so we can't simply give up because the work is hard. It's our
responsibility as governments and institutions that have some influence in the
country to use that influence on a responsible basis.
And I think what's important about the Co-Chairs is that we're all united. We
work together. We particularly work to support Minister Solheim and we stand by
him and the excellent work that he and the Norwegian Government have been doing
for many years. And we again today reaffirm our support for his mission. The
goal is to have the parties agree to a ceasefire and then to have them move back
towards negotiations and have those negotiations end up in peace and stability
for the people of the country.
But I should ask others if they want to answer that very basic question.
MR. AKASHI: I think you have summarized our common views. Of course, we hope
that the end result of durable peace will be achieved as soon as possible. We
are impatient to see some concrete results. But we know also that there's a long
history behind this conflict and all of us are determined to work for a most
expeditious durable peace.
MR. JOUANJEAN: Just to add that from the European Union side, we are as well
committed to the process. We are fully supportive of Norway and we spare no
effort to help Norway as a facilitator, as a member of our group. We will bring
our support to any initiatives on the ground to bring peace.
MR. SOLHEIM: There is not much to add because we very much share and understand
and (inaudible) impatience which is in your question. I mean there is absolutely
no doubt that we are also very much impatient. And I think time has come for a
complete respect for the ceasefire and immediate move to the -- to peace talks
to sort out this problem. Because even more impatient than us, we believe that
the different peoples of Sri Lanka are because they are suffering from these.
And the present atmosphere of fear in the land where the disappearances, where
the killings, where civilians are deliberately target by both sides and the
civilians are both coming into the crossfire between the two sides is a
completely unacceptable situation. And a lot of people are coming to us and
asking what we can do to make certain that they can come out of this (inaudible)
situation. But at the end of the day, just to add that, of course, it's the
Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE who can make peace in Sri Lanka. We can be of
support to them, but it's their responsibility to make peace.
QUESTION: Foster Klug with the Associated Press. Was there any talk, discussion
of financial or other types of assistance that might be provided to help the
peace process? Or were there any specific strategies that you determined during
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'll just answer for my own government. We, of course,
are a friend to the Sri Lankan Government and we do have an assistance program
for that government, in fact, a very intensive one and we intend to continue
that of course. We hope that the assistance that we provide, the varied
assistance to the government, will contribute to this larger cause of peace in
Sri Lanka itself.
MR. AKASHI: As you know, in June 2003, following the ceasefire agreement reached
in the previous year, the Government of Japan organized an international
conference for rehabilitation and development of Sri Lanka and collected pledges
amounting to $4.5 billion. The great bulk of this has already been delivered by
the way of pledge to close linkage between the peace process and the assistance
process. The more progress there is on the peace front, I'm sure that all the
governments and the organizations which made original pledges are prepared to be
even more generous. But what has been happening lately has been rather negative
to the hoped for consequences. So we'll keep reviewing the situation and
appropriate mix of incentives and disincentives has to be always weighed and
MR. SOLHEIM: If I may add that the international community has, in fact, been
rather generous towards Sri Lanka, Japan taking the lead in giving long-term
development assistance to Sri Lanka. We have been able to share all costs of the
peace process as such and there's a great willingness to go with the government
and the LTTE as long as they move towards peace, we are ready to contribute
financially and in many other ways.
The immediate concern is not even money. The immediate concern is access. And UN
organizations and nongovernment organizations, I mean, all involved in
humanitarian affairs should be given access to the victims of this conflict on
all sides so they can help them. I think money is not really at the moment the
critical factor. It's access.
MR. JOUANJEAN: Maybe I can add a word as far as the European Union is concerned.
I mean, together with our colleagues we are a major donor of assistance
cooperation, assistance to Sri Lanka, acting both in the framework of the Tokyo
Declaration as well as in the normal framework of our development policy. The
amounts of money are quite huge. We have been acting not only the humanitarian
sector, but also on action on the ground, for instance, very active through the
de-mining process in the north where a lot of assistance has been granted in the
recent years. So I think the four of us are very active there. We have not
discussed the future of our cooperation during these discussions.
QUESTION: Sridhar from Press Trust of India. My question is to Mr. Burns. Sir,
there has been a lot of writing in the media that there is somehow two different
tracks of U.S. policy towards this conflict in Sri Lanka. The hard line espoused
by Mr. Burns supposedly is for allowing military offensives for the state of Sri
Lanka to preserve the territorial integrity. And supposedly there is a softer
line that is pushing for the homeland, you know, of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Can
you please clarify for the record what it is that the U.S. is pushing there now
in Sri Lanka?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'm very happy to set the record straight if you're
confused or if any of your colleagues are confused. The United States doesn't
normally have two policies towards one country; we normally follow one. And in
the case of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan people and government are a good friend to
the United States. We support the government. We have a good relationship with
the government. We believe the government has a right to try to protect the
territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. The government has a right
to protect the stability and security in the country. We meet often with the
government at the highest levels and consider the government to be a friend to
We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group
responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers
responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral
in this respect. I'm talking about the United States Government now. And
therefore we hope very much that the people of Sri Lanka will be able to live in
peace in the future.
Now, there are times when the government takes actions that we have to speak out
because of our opposition to those actions. There have been, as you know, a
number of incidents over the last few months that have given us a great deal of
concern about the use of military power against civilians and against aid
workers. And we have called on the government and in our direct conversations
with the government to establish a committee of inquiry -- the government has
done this -- and international observers to help find out the truth of what
happened and then to ask the government to hold those people responsible. And we
have been apprised by the government just in recent days that they intend to do
So that would be a general sense of the United States policy towards Sri Lanka.
But we share in this respect with our Co-Chairs partners an abiding hope for
peace and for an end to the conflict, and we hope to use the combined influence
of the European Union and Japan, Norway and the United States, working with
countries like India, to see if we can bring our influence to bear to make some
suggestions that might be helpful to the government and helpful in bringing
about a ceasefire and peace negotiations. That is our immediate objective and
that is the policy of my government.
QUESTION: Can I just have a quick follow-up?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Please.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on how -- what military assistance does the United
States provide to the Government of Sri Lanka and whether any of the arms have
been used by the government troops in alleged atrocities? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, as I said before, the United States does have an
assistance program to Sri Lanka. It is an assistance program first and foremost
based on our hope for development of the country, for further trade, investment,
for attention to some of the economic and health problems of the country. We are
working with Sri Lanka as a partner in counterterrorism as well as
counterproliferation. All that is happening. We also do have -- we have engaged
in military assistance to Sri Lanka. I can't give you an exact accounting for
it, but we'd be happy to take your question and get back to you.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Judy Matthews. I'm with Bloomberg News. And I'm just
wondering what kind of leverage really you all can hope to have over the LTTE or
way to persuade them to come back to the peace talks?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Gentlemen.
MR. AKASHI: I think there are a number of ways in which the Co-Chairs have been
working. Norway has been on the forefront of being a diplomatic facilitator,
honest messenger of ideas from both sides. And some of us, like Japan, feel that
as the largest donor country to that country we have a certain clout which we
use to encourage the government to make imaginative as well as realistic offers
of negotiation with LTTE. We have also not severed our relationship with LTTE in
the hope that somehow we can try to persuade them that the path of peace is more
conducive to a better life for all their people. And in our distribution of
assistance we have been very mindful of geographical as well as ethnic balance
so that we not only not exacerbate the conflict but ameliorate the conflict.
Japan is committed to the policy of not only keeping peace but building peace
through economic, social, political and other means. And we are delighted that
we are working with the United States, Norway, and as a regional organization EU
together, and as mentioned by Mr. Burns, India, even though it is not part of
the Co-Chairs, is working hand in hand with us in promoting peace. So I think
with regard to LTTE while some of us -- not Japan at this time -- have been
exerting more pressures, we feel that our approach of a better life for Tamil
people and the nondiscriminatory treatment of all ethnic groups and working with
those political elements in Sri Lanka which are for considerable devolution of
power or sharing of power. We want to work with them and encourage them so that
the peace which is acceptable to the government, to the majority as well as
minority populations in that country, which include not only Tamil people but
Muslim people can be found.
MR. SOLHEIM: You may add to that, Yasushi and myself have been working with the
Tamil Tigers now for, I think, five or six years, so of course we and of course
with different Sri Lankan governments in the same period of time. Because there
is simply no way the international community can impose peace in Sri Lanka. It
must be homegrown in the sense that Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE they must
move towards peace then we can all assist them.
What is new, however, and positive was that last month it was agreed between the
two side that there are really three tracks in this peace process which have to
be discussed at the same time. Number one is the humanitarian suffering of the
people, including the long-term economic development. Second is the need for a
sustained ceasefire. You cannot simply sit and talk for long in an atmosphere of
constant violence. And the third is the political track, how to find a
settlement to the Tamil ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.
The two parties have agreed to discuss this. What is the need of the other is
for the two sides to agree to a ceasefire which can be the platform for moving
forward on all these three tracks. The political track will be more easy than
hopefully this present agreement between the two main parties, including ruling
Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party. And they come together
within the framework of this (inaudible) committee which the President has
established. If they then can present the political proposal, of course, it will
be much more easy to move forward on the political track. But immediate is
simply both parties should cease violence, put a full stop to all sorts of
violence (inaudible) and if they do so, we would be able to move rapidly
QUESTION: I wasn't quite sure is the government doing enough, everything that it
can from your point of view, to show that it's ready for peace?
MR. SOLHEIM: Well, I think in my role as facilitator, it's very difficult also
to be the judge, so I would prefer someone else to answer that question.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'd just say on behalf of the United States that we have
faith in the government and faith in the President of Sri Lanka. They do want to
make peace. And we are urging the government to choose peace. Now, I think we've
all been disturbed, certainly in my government we have been, by the breakdown in
the ceasefire. There's been a tremendous level of fighting and bloodshed over
the last few months.
So we ask the government to redouble its efforts. We ask the government to seek
a ceasefire from the point of view of the United States and I'm just speaking
here on behalf of my own government, not certainly on behalf of the Co-Chairs,
we see the LTTE as greatly responsible for the present conflict and we are a
fierce critic of their terrorist tactics and the fact that so many people have
been victimized by those terrorist tactics.
But clearly what we are seeing today, and my government very much agrees with
this, is that it takes both sides to agree to peace. It has been both sides that
have caused the violence over the last several months. And so any situation like
this, it's incumbent upon us to use the influence that we have to try to move
both of them, influence both of them to move towards peace. And as Ambassador
Akashi has said, they all have to be mindful, both sides have to be mindful of
the fact that we are all donors, we are all countries that have influence and we
will seek to use that influence for peace and that's why we're together in this
Co-Chairs arrangement to see if we can pool our efforts to be influential and to
be convincing in what we ask them to do.
Thank you. Any remaining questions?
QUESTION: Other than Sri Lanka?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We're here to talk about Sri Lanka, I can assure you.
Thank you very much.