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Briefing on Sri Lanka

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Waldorf-Astoria
New York City
September 24, 2008

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We had a meeting of the Sri Lanka Co-Chairs today. That’s the United States, Norway, the European Union, and Japan. We meet regularly on the subject of Sri Lanka, and we had a meeting today in New York because, for many of us, it was convenient to be here and others, like our Japanese colleagues, were willing to fly in.

We had a very thorough discussion for about two hours of the whole situation and outlook in Sri Lanka. I think it’s characterized, first and foremost, by a notable convergence of views, both on the short-term needs and the long-term. But we wanted to say that one of the areas that all of us emphasized were the immediate humanitarian concerns, and that involves several issues. The fighting has been expanding, heading towards the north. We’re placing a lot of emphasis right now on the protection of human rights for civilians who are caught in the fighting, and the democratic government’s responsibility for extending – for respecting and extending human rights protection to the people in the areas that they take over.

The second is humanitarian access for – to care for the needs of those who are displaced and affected by the fighting, where both sides need to make sure that they’re not catching civilians in the crossfire, that they’re letting people go to places where they can be safe, and that humanitarian deliveries can take place for these populations that are affected by the fighting.

And the third is sort of a corollary to that, and that’s our very strong support for United Nations organizations and humanitarian actors who are trying to take care of the displaced people and people affected by the fighting, working in government areas, working with the government. But we think they themselves play a very important role.

We’re all having meetings in New York with representatives of the Sri Lankan Government. Some of the parties are in touch with the Tamil Tigers during the course of their activities, and we are making these points – each of us, I think – to the parties that we speak to, and particularly this week in New York, to the representatives of the Sri Lankan Government who are here. And our ambassadors, envoys in Colombo, are making them as well.

So we wanted to get out on the record from the Co-Chairs that we did have a meeting, but also to emphasize the humanitarian concerns at this particular moment.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying close enough attention at the very beginning. Who were you meeting with? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s about Sri Lanka.

MODERATOR: I’m glad we’ve got that on the record. (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Am I supposed to use the name in the response?

QUESTION: Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We were meeting with the Co-Chairs, as they’re called, that – who work on Sri Lanka, and they were Co-Chairs of the meeting. I can’t remember –

QUESTION: 2003?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: 2003. But it’s the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway. That’s actually kind of in reverse order, because Norway is the most frequent.

QUESTION: You don’t call it the Quad?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, we don’t. There’s too much confusion over words like that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then there was someone from the Sri Lankan Government who was there, too?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, this is a meeting of the foreigners who are involved in the process. But we each are meeting with representatives of the Sri Lankan Government. I met yesterday with President Rajapaksa. Other delegations are meeting with other representatives.

QUESTION: So you are concerned about government activities? That’s what you’re –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, we’re – well, we’ve talked before about the human rights situation there and the government’s responsibility. But I think at this moment it’s just protection of human rights. It’s recognition the that the government, especially as a democratic government, as it moves forward militarily, needs to pay special attention to the protection of human rights for the citizens in the areas that they take over, special attention as they proceed with the fighting to respect the civilian population, and also to work with the international organizations, the United Nations especially, to make sure that the humanitarian assistance that these people need is provided in a smooth fashion.

QUESTION: Who’s in touch with the Tamil Tigers? The Norwegians?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah, some of the other members of the Co-Chair have various contacts.

QUESTION: But you haven’t had direct contact?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Not the United States, no.

QUESTION: Who others besides the Norwegians have contacts with the Tamil Tigers? Is it all the others? I don’t –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, it’s – the Japanese have had contacts in the past. I think you’d have to check with each one sort of where their current contacts stand. But one of the reasons for making the humanitarian concerns public is so that the Tigers get the message, as well as the people on the government side.

QUESTION: Do you have any statistics on the number of displaced people sort of recently by this conflict, how many people have recently been killed, why you’re making this statement now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: There’s an estimate of about 200,000 displaced people. And frankly, I don’t know if that’s kind of the official UN estimate or if that’s just kind of the ballpark figure that we’re working with these days. But as the fighting continues, which it looks like it will, I think there’s concern there’ll be more and more.

QUESTION: And the death toll – do you have any –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Civilians?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay?

QUESTION: When was the last time that you guys had one of these meetings?

QUESTION: 2000.

QUESTION: Last year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, it was this year, wasn’t it? No, no, we do this periodically. Six to nine months ago. I can’t –

QUESTION: It was this year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Might have been late last year.

QUESTION: Might have been last calendar year. I can see that that is a real burning issue. (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, it’s just we – you know, we don’t necessarily use the meetings –

STAFF: You were just there visiting to take this up in August, weren’t you, Assistant Secretary Boucher?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yeah. No, I was just out there earlier this year. It might have been December. It might have been January, frankly.

QUESTION: So that was today. And these were the foreign ministers of – the Japanese Foreign Minister is not here.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, this is not foreign ministers. This is the Co-Chairs. So for the United States it was myself, Richard Boucher –

QUESTION: And your equivalents?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, for the EU, Commissioner Ferraro-Waldner was there part of the time. For the Norwegians, Minister Erik Solheim was there.

QUESTION: He’s their Foreign Minister?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, he’s the Minister for Development. He was there for, again, most of the time. And then for the Japanese, it’s Yasushi Akashi, who is their senior diplomat representative, and many of you know of his many achievements in other areas.

QUESTION: You mean like the Cambodian (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I’ll ignore the comment.

2008/774


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