US Ambassador Robert Blake recently ruled out the possibility of a UN peace keeping mission in Sri Lanka. In an interview in the latest edition of BENCHMARK Blake had stated `I don t think so. First of all, there is no peace to keep! So that s a bit of a far-fetched scheme. In terms of a role for the UN, it has to be requested by the member state in question. I have not heard that the Government is interested in any UN force at this state quite the contrary. They ve taken quite an active role to oppose, for example, any role by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was interested in setting up an office here.
Excerpts of the interview
BENCHMARK: Would you support the Government s short, sharp, strategic war to eliminate terrorism?
BLAKE: I don t think that such an outcome is possible. I don t know what that means really. We don t believe that a military solution is really possible. Prabhakaran has survived up to now, since the late 70s, and he has shown himself to be very adept and resilient, and I think he continues to be so. We certainly don t have any great affection for Prabhakaran, but we feel that the ultimate answer lies in a political solution, and that is why we are encouraging the Government to pursue that path.
BENCHMARK: Despite the liberation of the Eastern Province, the Pillaiyan group continues to practise terror tactics there. So are some forms of terror acceptable?
BLAKE: No. No forms of terror are okay. And we have expressed our concern over all the paramilitaries, not simply the Pillaiyan group, or the Karuna faction. And again, we think the long-term solution to this situation in the east is to not allow these groups to bear arms, and for them to be a part of the political process, and I think the Government is moving in that direction. I was pleased to see the other day that PAFFREL, which is a group that is going to provide some monitors, and is already monitoring conditions out there, said that the Pillaiyan group has laid down their arms, and are not intimidating people in the east. So that is a very good sign if it is true, and I hope it is.
BENCHMARK: Successive Governments have shied away from banning the LTTE, probably because this would effectively forestall any future prospect of talks. But with the present Government s war on terror, why not take that step too?
BLAKE: I m not sure that the Government will gain much in banning the LTTE at this stage. I think they have already made their point. Banning the LTTE may be interpreted in the international community as taking a further step away from a political solution. Obviously, it is up to the Government to decide what to do.
BENCHMARK: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has expressed a wish that Prabhakaran be captured alive, with a view to extraditing him to India.
BLAKE: Well, he is widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. So certainly, that would be fine. I m sure he would get a fair trial in India, and we have no concerns over that. The question is whether you will be able to capture him alive or not? I m not sure if that is possible or not!
BENCHMARK: What role does the US see India, whose previous foray into Sri Lanka was a disaster, playing in conflict resolution now?
BLAKE: India, as you say, has a long history here. People still remember that they were the ones that engineered the 13th Amendment and some of the things that are, I think, still being talked about today. In many ways, they ve played a very crucial and salutary role here. And so, whatever role they continue to play will be positive from my perspective, and we will continue to work very closely with our friends from India.
BENCHMARK: Is there a case for a UN peace-keeping mission in Sri Lanka?
BLAKE: I don t think so. First of all, there is no peace to keep! So that s a bit of a far-fetched scheme. In terms of a role for the UN, it has to be requested by the member state in question. I have not heard that the Government is interested in any UN force at this state quite the contrary. They ve taken quite an active role to oppose, for example, any role by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was interested in setting up an office here.
BENCHMARK: Will the US support such a mission?
BLAKE: Any such mission would be led by Louise Arbour by her office- the United States is in favour of such an office, because we believe that there has been a climate of impunity here, and there has been a significant problem with human rights here. Sri Lanka s own institutions have been incapable of dealing with it effectively. So we believe that the office would help to improve not only the functioning of Sri Lanka s own systems, but help to provide a measure of protection. We favour this, but it will have to be worked out between the Government and the office of Louise Arbour. We are not really playing an active role in that regard.
BENCHMARK: Will the putative discovery of oil off the coast of Sri Lanka make a strategic difference to the interest levels of the international community vis- -vis the country?
BLAKE: I don t think it will have much of an impact. I went with Minister Fowzie to Houston to help lead a road show there, where we explained to a number of international oil companies about some of the opportunities. So far, no American company has bid. There were three international companies, and I have not had a chance to discuss with them why they chose not to bid. But all of them were very, very experienced in these matters. Perhaps they felt that the oil that was there was not enough to justify significant investment. Or else, perhaps they were worried about the security situation here. I m not sure I don t have details of what the reasons are for the lack of bidding, but I don t see it as a significant part of the strategic picture here.