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Clinton Remarks Create Flap: Lankans Stage ‘Token Protest’ in Los Angeles

‘US policy in Sri Lanka a disaster’

By Hassina Leelarthna

(April 24, Los Angeles, CA , Sri Lank Guardian) aSri Lankans held a ‘token demonstration’ yesterday to lodge their protest at a blistering comment made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accusing Sri Lanka of causing ‘untold suffering’ in the push to eliminate the Tigers.

A handful of protesters, including several Buddhist monks, gathered outside the US Federal Building in Westwood carrying signs that said: “US Has Failed in Sri Lanka” and “Hillary, We are Outraged by You.”

Clinton, appearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on April 21, called the current situation in Sri Lanka ‘a terrible humanitarian tragedy’ and said the US has asked the Sri Lankan government for a ceasefire so ‘we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible.’

"I think the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed, that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering,” she said."We have made it clear that as soon as there is some lull in the fighting or an end to the fighting there has to be not only massive humanitarian aid, but a political resolution."

Clinton’s comments touched a raw nerve in the community where anger has been simmering ever since the US Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s hearing on Sri Lanka in February , widely viewed as a one-sided affair deliberately set up to paint a dire picture of Colombo’s handling of the situation in the Wanni.

That hearing which turned out to be a litany of criticisms and misinformation of the humanitarian situation did not include any Sri Lankan government representation. Diaspora attempts to present the ‘Sri Lankan side’ by way of emails and faxes to the subcommittee went unacknowledged, although, adding fuel to fire, the submission of Bruce Fein, an attorney representing LTTE interests, was accepted. Fein, currently being retained by ‘Tamils Against Genocide,’ an LTTE front group, is the quintessential hired legal gun. Having failed in 2006 in his bid to have his one-man consulting firm ‘The Lichfield Group’ retained by the Sri Lankan government to ‘ target key leaders those who support Sri Lanka’s democracy and deplore the Tamils’ terrorism to spearhead a congressional advocacy campaign’ and to conduct a ‘focused media blitz’ against the Tigers, he turned to the LTTE and found a gold mine. After a brief honeymoon with ‘Tamils for Justice,’ he disappeared for a short while, allegedly with the donation box, then reappeared as counsel for an opposing LTTE front, ‘Tamils Against Genocide.’ He is currently on a mission to have several Sri Lankan leaders tried for ‘genocide.’

Sri Lankans who were unable to get in a word sideways with the SFRC, were aghast at the inclusion of Fein’s statement as part of the subcommittee’s testimony. New York resident Ranjith Liyanage said he emailed SFRC chairman Senator Kerry protesting the inclusion of Fein’s statement but he did not get a response.

Yesterday’s ad hoc protest, organized by the activist group The Sri Lankan Patriots (SLP), reflected the community’s frustration at US lawmakers continuing efforts to discredit Sri Lanka.

Visiting Buddhist monk Ven. Napatawela Dhammananda, Principal, Sri Dharmodaya Pirivena, Girandurukotte, who was among the protesters called current US policy in Sri Lanka ‘a disaster.’

'The US has given very little help to Sri Lanka to fight this terrorist war. They also don't make any effort to truly understand the situation and take a balanced view. All they do is criticize us. The Sri Lankan forces have done a remarkable job saving Tamil civilians but the US cannot accept this fact. Frankly, US policy in Sri Lanka is a big disaster," he said.

His sentiments were shared by other monks at the protest: Ven. Aparekke Punyasiri , chief abbot, Maithri Buddhist Meditation Center, Ven. Lelwala Dhammakusala, a teacher at Dharmapala Vidayalaya, Pannipitiya), and resident monks from the Lankarama Buddhist Temple, La Puente: Ven. Pemananda and Ven. Dhammasara.

SLP in a letter to Clinton pointed out that many Sri Lankan soldiers have died trying to free Tamil civilians from the grips of the LTTE’s ‘Pol-Pot type regime.’

“Your harsh and unwarranted words will, no doubt, cause great pain to the families of these and other young Sri Lankan men and women who have died so that their Tamil brothers and sisters may find freedom,” SLP told Clinton.

Clinton’s remarks came just a day after a hearing on Sri Lanka by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, (formerly the Congressional Human Rights Caucus). Commission chairman Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) faulted both the LTTE and the GOSL for failing to protecting civilians.

"The particular case we are exploring this afternoon, Sri Lanka, is a situation where both the government forces and the Tamil Tigers have abdicated their responsibility to protect from mass atrocities civilian non-combatant who are caught in the cross-fire of war," said McGovern. "It has therefore fallen to the international community, and especially humanitarian organizations like UNHCR and the ICRC, along with a handful of NGO's, to try to assure their safety,” he continued.

SLP secretary Gamini Edirisinghe said most Sri Lankans had supported the Democrats in the 2008 election and that many felt let down by the heavy-handed criticism of dealt by US leaders. “The Sri Lankan government and troops deserve some recognition for the manner in which they are handling the biggest hostage drama ever. If not for the concern for Tamil civilians, the war would have been over a long time ago. Besides, the US is demanding a ceasefire in Sri Lanka but they continue to drop bombs on Pakistani civilians in order to catch Al Qeda terrorists. Mrs. Clinton has no right to criticize Sri Lanka,” he said.

A bigger rally is slated for Friday at the same venue to call for the freeing of hostages being held by the LTTE and draw attention to the US’ approach to the Sri Lankan situation.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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