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The Role of the International Community

International attention to Sri Lanka focused on support for a political settlement to the conflict and humanitarian efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the war. Sri Lanka sought and received increased military assistance from key donors and cultivated relations with potential arms suppliers, including Israel, with which it renewed diplomatic ties in May after a break of thirty years. Norway, India, and the United States played major roles in as yet unsuccessful efforts to bring about negotiations between the warring parties. Intensification of fighting in April caused a postponement of the annual meeting of the Sri Lanka Aid Consortium, but as the war raged on many of Sri Lanka's donors released statements encouraging Norway's efforts as a facilitator for peace between the warring parties.


In January, the Norwegian government announced that it would play an intermediary role in efforts to bring about an end to the seventeen-year war in Sri Lanka. Norwegian delegates met with government and LTTE representatives in separate meetings outside the country. Norway also sent senior officials to Colombo several times during the year for discussions on the escalation of fighting.


On May 8, the Indian government indicated for the first time that it would be willing to mediate in the crisis if asked by both sides. On May 23, Indian officials rejected suggestions in the press that the government of India was considering military intervention in Sri Lanka, amidst reports of an increased Indian naval presence off the Kerala coast. Meanwhile, India continued to play host to more than 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees, including about 65,000 in government-run camps in Tamil Nadu. Small numbers of refugees continued to arrive in India by boat during the year, but the Indian navy intercepted many vessels, preventing would-be refugees from landing on Indian soil and seized Indian fishing boats used to transport refugees. India offered to increase humanitarian assistance.

United States

The United States encouraged efforts by Norway and India to promote a negotiated settlement to the Sri Lankan conflict but continued to label the LTTE a "foreign terrorist organization," and increased anti-terrorism aid to the Sri Lankan government. On May 29, U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering met with President Kumaratunga in Colombo. He expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka, urged the parties to press ahead with efforts to negotiate a political settlement short of secession, and encouraged the Sri Lankan government to lift press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties. In June, President Clinton forwarded to the Senate for ratification a treaty signed in September 1999 that would facilitate extradition of LTTE members to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka sought the treaty to prevent the LTTE from fund-raising or organizing political support in the U.S.

Other Major Donors

The E.U. joined Japan and most of Sri Lanka's other major donors in urging the LTTE and the government to cooperate with the Norwegian government's efforts to facilitate talks. Many donors also criticized the emergency measures imposed in May. On May 15, the E.U. emphasized the need to reestablish civil liberties, noting the responsibility of both sides to ensure the safety of the civilian population in conflict zones, and calling for negotiations. The Japanese government issued a similar appeal and warned that the emergency measures and continued censorship of the media could violate Japan's Official Development Assistance human rights guidelines.

In July, following a fact-finding visit to Sri Lanka, two British members of the European Parliament criticized the government's human rights record stating that it had not done enough to protect civilians caught in the conflict and was using press censorship to cover-up abuses. They also urged the lifting of a military policy that banned even essential supplies, including food and medicine, from reaching areas controlled by the LTTE.

United Nations

In October 1999, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Sri Lanka to follow-up on more than 12,000 cases. Its December 1999 report stated that Sri Lanka was still second only to Iraq in numbers of unresolved cases, and noted that there had been few prosecutions of alleged perpetrators within the security forces, some of whom remained on active duty or had even been promoted.

In mid-March, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy, who is herself Sri Lankan, emphasized the lack of government response to allegations of sexual violence by security personnel in Sri Lanka. She noted too, that, despite a presidential directive, little effort had been made to investigate the December 1999 gang-rape and murder by naval personnel of twenty-nine-year-old Sarathambal Saravanbavananthatkurukal near Jaffna.

UNHCR played an important role in assisting many of Sri Lanka's internally displaced in northern Sri Lanka, though its efforts to assist some of the newest IDPs were hampered by conflict-related restrictions. The agency had no presence in most of eastern Sri Lanka, and only a limited mandate for protection. In the past, the Sri Lankan government's rejection of a protection role for the agency had forced it to focus largely on humanitarian relief. In 2000, a core component of UNHCR's Sri Lanka program was seeking "access to national protection" for IDPs.

Representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) made several statements expressing concern for child victims of war and denouncing the LTTE's use of child soldiers. In July, UNICEF representatives in Colombo accused the LTTE of breaking its promise not to recruit children for combat.

Nongovernmental Efforts

On May 6, the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, a coalition of aid agencies and human rights organizations, called on the international community to avert an impending humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. In mid-May, government and NGO delegates from thirty countries attending an Asia-Pacific conference on child soldiers appealed for a global ban on child soldiers. The delegates' "Kathmandu Declaration" noted that a growing number of children were being used in armed conflicts, particularly where insurgent groups were active, and said that Sri Lanka was among the worst offenders in the region.

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