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Up to India to get involved in Lankan peace process: Armitage
Aziz Haniffa in Washington D C | November 04, 2003 14:22 IST
United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has told rediff.com that it's up to India whether to play a 'catalytic role' in the Sri Lankan peace process.
Armitage has been the Bush administration's point man in pushing for a peaceful resolution of the 20-year-old conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
He asserted that New Delhi has 'equities' in an envisaged solution.
After calling on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Armitage said, "India has to make her own decision of what role to play, (but) she has equities in this solution."
"India suffered quite a bit in the late 1980s when she was involved in trying to bring about a moderation to the situation," he pointed out.
Wickremesinghe arrived in Washington Sunday night. He will be meeting President George W Bush on Wednesday at the White House.
He is also slated to meet several senior US officials and Congressional leaders and his meeting with Armitage was the first of such discussions.
Armitage also sought to allay apprehensions in some quarters, including India, that the US taking on a lead role in the peace process because of Washington's strategic interest in the island nation, especially the possibility of facilities to US warships and aircraft.
"Our strategic interest is where there is violence and trouble anyplace -- it can spread to other places. So to that regard, we have a strategic interest," Armitage explained.
"The overwhelming interest we have is one of humanity," he argued. "And that is the development of Sri Lanka. We want this island -- this nation of over 20 million -- to be a full, complete partner in the economic life -- not only of South Asian, but of the globe. We see no reason why Sri Lanka can't be an engine, an engine of growth in South Asia and I look forward to the day, when it will be."
Armitage also said the reason why he was so intimately involved in pushing the Sri Lankan peace process, despite Washington's other pressing concerns like the war in Iraq, was because the US now saw a real possibility of peace in the country.
"First of all, the US government, contrary to what is sometimes popular belief, can do more than one thing at a time. For the United States, we see a real possibility that President (Chandrika) Kumaratunga -- who began the search for peace -- (and) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe -- who continues to search for peace -- may actually be able to develop a significant, we would say, strategic centre of gravity to be able to bring or unite society behind a peace accord."
"For their own reasons, the LTTE, perhaps has tired of the conflict -- at least the violence associated with it -- and is willing to give negotiations a chance," he said. "And for us, if there is a possibility of ameliorating something, which has made 20 million people in one way or another suffer for 20 years, then we ought to be involved and we are proud to be involved along with the fantastic efforts of the Norwegian facilitators."
Earlier, in an impromptu press interaction after he emerged from nearly an hour of discussions with Wickremesinghe, Armitage acknowledged that the focus of the talks centred on the proposed Interim Self-Governing Authority the LTTE had put forward on October 31.
Armitage said, "The LTTE's proposal is the first time I've seen such a comprehensive delineation of the aspirations of the LTTE, and in this regard I think it's significant."
"I would also note that my reading of this almost 12-page document indicates to me that it does go outside the bounds of Oslo and that envisioned in Oslo and Tokyo, where we talked about a federation, a democratic society, respect for human rights and territorial integrity of the entire island," he said. "But as I say, it being the first time we've seen such a comprehensive delineation and it's significant. It may form the basis for a way forward or a process. But I would say that we need to kind of come back towards the boundaries envisioned by Oslo."
Asked if this latest proposal by the LTTE, would help it get the designation of a foreign terrorist organisation by the US lifted, Armitage said, "This in itself does not remove in any way the LTTE from the FTO list. In order to be removed from the list, the LTTE must, in word and deed eschew the use of terrorism -- that is violence against innocent as a political weapon."
He also said the US remained concerned over the LTTE's continuing conscription of children. "My understanding is that the conscription of children or the so-called phenomenon of child soldiers is still continuing. It's a terrible blot on society when children are impressed into military combat."
Armitage also said the US also remained concerned over arms smuggling by the LTTE. "To the extent possible and consistent with international law etc, we want to be on the side of trying to throttle that arms smuggling. We'll continue to look for ways to do just that," he said.