Further evidence has emerged confirming that top-level discussions are underway involving Washington, Colombo and New Delhi over an American-led military intervention in northern Sri Lanka on the pretext of evacuating civilians trapped by the island’s civil war.
Speaking to a group of South Asian journalists last weekend, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher was asked about press reports in Colombo revealing plans for a marine expeditionary brigade attached to Pacific Command (PACOM) to be sent to Sri Lanka.
While deliberately vague on detail, Boucher did confirm that talks were taking place. “We had some people there to look at the situation to identify what the possibilities might be. We could do whatever we can to help these people,” he said.
The Washington correspondent of the Calcutta-based Telegraph, K.P. Nayar, provided the only detailed report. No account has appeared in the US media, even though, as Nayar wrote: “If the invasion comes about, it will be the first time that the Obama administration will flex its muscle overseas in a new show of American power.”
[…..} While the US intervention is being dressed up as an evacuation plan, it is not motivated by concern for Tamil civilians. Since Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse broke the 2002 ceasefire and launched the first offensives in July 2006, Washington has provided diplomatic and military support for Colombo’s criminal war. Thousands of civilians have been killed in fighting over the past two and a half years, with nothing more than an occasional murmur of protest from the US and its allies over the worst human rights abuses.
The Obama administration’s interest in Sri Lanka is driven by concerns over the political ramifications of the LTTE’s military collapse. Far from resolving the decades of official anti-Tamil discrimination that produced the 25-year war, the army’s advances against the LTTE have heightened communal tensions in Sri Lanka and neighbouring India. News of a Sri Lankan army bloodbath would have potentially explosive consequences.
In comments last Friday in Colombo, US ambassador Robert Blake reiterated Washington’s call for “a political solution to the conflict where the aspirations of all communities are safeguarded, promoted and preserved.” However, having created a state based on Sinhala supremacism, successive Sri Lankan governments have proven completely incapable of making any, even limited, concessions to the Tamil minority.
Establishing a US military presence on the island would certainly give Washington greater leverage to ensure that its interests are protected in the event that the LTTE is destroyed as a regular military force. In the short-term, the US is seeking to prevent any further destabilisation in a region that is already political tinderbox. In the longer-term, Washington is seeking to augment its position in Sri Lanka, which is strategically adjacent to South Asia and the Middle East and astride key naval routes to North East Asia. read