US Senators voice concern over Lanka

Seven US Senators sent a letter last Wednesday to Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, voicing their concerns over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. “The situation in Sri Lanka is unacceptable and must be remedied as quickly as possible,” the Senators said in the letter, whose chief signatory was US Senator Bob Casey (Pennsylvania).

The letter urged the Obama administration to continue pressing for a ceasefire and to make available emergency humanitarian aid to victims in the conflict zone. The US Senators also urged the US Embassy in Colombo to explore the possibility of providing temporary refuge for Sri Lankan journalists whose safety is threatened.

Senator Bob Casey

On February 24, in his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Senator Casey focused on the escalating violence in Sri Lanka, the growing humanitarian crisis, and the prospects for a political resolution to the conflict.

The subcommittee heard testimony from Jeffrey Lunstead, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka; Dr. Anna Neistat, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, and Bob Dietz, Asia Program Co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“In their testimony, the witnesses described horrific atrocities by the LTTE. They recounted how the LTTE conscripts child soldiers and hides among the civilian population, inviting bombardments on densely populated areas. Furthermore, they refuse to let entrapped civilians leave the area. This egregious disregard for human life underscores why the United States designated the LTTE a foreign terrorist organisation,” the letter said.

”Yet, the Sri Lankan Govt. has acted no more responsibly. Not only does it refuse to grant humanitarian aid workers access to the conflict zone, there are reports that it also shells civilians and hospitals in the so-called ‘safe zone’ for Tamil citizens.

“Descriptions of government camps for civilians fortunate enough to leave the conflict zone reminded us of detention centres, rather than safe havens for refugees,” the Senators stated in the letter. The US Senators also urged the Secretary of State to instruct the US Embassy in Colombo to explore the possibility of providing temporary refuge to Sri Lankan journalists who legitimately feared for their safety and well-being, and to encourage other governments to take similar measures.

“An enduring peace can be achieved only through a political solution that treats the Tamil minority as equal citizens under the law,” the letter went on to state. “Without such an agreement, the violence will only continue.”

The letter was signed by Robert P. Casey, Patrick Leahy, George V. Voinovich, Sherrod Brown, Joseph I. Lieberman, Barbara Mikulski, and Richard Burr.

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