In the aftermath of a spate of killings in the North-East and fears of war, US Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead yesterday warned the LTTE that if it chose to abandon the search for peace, the Sri Lankan military would emerge ?stronger, more determined and capable?.
Addressing a luncheon hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka and attended by top business leaders, he said US military assistance to Sri Lanka would continue but was quick to add that such assistance did not mean the US feared that war might erupt.
?We want to make it clear. The LTTE will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military. We want the cost of a return to war to be high,? he said.
The strong warning came a day after President Mahinda Rajapakse met the envoys of the Tokyo donor conference co-chairs?the US, the EU, Japan and Norway?to brief them on the crisis situation and reassure that the government would act with restraint.
The ambassador said US military training and assistance programmes, including efforts to help with counter-terrorism initiatives and block illegal financial transactions, would help to protect the people and defend Sri Lanka`s interests.
Answering a query whether he foresaw the possibility of the country being plunged back to war, the ambassador said the US hoped the peace process would hold despite the regular ceasefire violations.
?Let me make it clear. Our military assistance is not given because we anticipate or fear a return to hostilities,? Mr. Lunstead said. ?We want peace. We support peace. And we will stand with the people of Sri Lanka who desire peace,? he stressed.
The ambassador praised the government`s restraint in the face of provocative attacks by the LTTE.
He called upon the LTTE to take part in the development of the country but stressed the rebels must renounce terrorism ?in word and deed and become responsible participants in Sri Lanka`s future?.
The ambassador reiterated the US would fully support a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict within unified Sri Lanka.
Hitting out hard at the LTTE leadership, the ambassador questioned their qualities and motives when they continued to pursue violence even when the benefits of peace were obvious?.
?What kind of leaders block their people from realising their most fundamental democratic aspirations? What kind of leaders allow their people to suffer from lack of investment and industry?? he asked.
The US envoy called upon both government and the LTTE to resume peace talks immediately but refused to comment on the dispute between the two parties regarding the venue for such talks.
He called on the business community to take a ?binding interest? in the peace process since peace and the economy were inevitably inter-related.
?You need to take an active role in both promoting the process and educating the country about the benefits of its success or the consequence of its failure,? he said.