SL-US relations now ‘complicated’ – Dinesh tells U.S. envoy

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –The United States’ move to ban the Army Commander and his family from entering the USA has “unnecessarily complicated” Sri Lanka-US relations, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz yesterday morning after summoning the US envoy. The Minister impressed upon the Ambassador the need for Washington to ‘review’ its decision and repair bilateral relations without delay. The Ambassador undertook to convey the Government’s views on this matter, a Foreign Relations Ministry communique said following the diplomatic interaction.

Minister Gunawardena yesterday reiterated the Government’s ‘strong objection’ to the United States decision to ban Army Commander and Acting Chief of Defence Staff Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and his immediate family from entering the US over alleged human rights violations.

Earlier on Friday (February 14), the Foreign Ministry had issued the Government of Sri Lanka’s immediate reaction following the announcement by the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Relations ministry communiqué said.

The Ministry communque said:

“During his discussion, the Minister reiterated that Lt. Gen. Silva was appointed as the Army Commander by the then Head of State, taking into account his seniority and that there were no substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against him.

His elevation as the Actg. Chief of Defence Staff by the current Head of State President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on account of his being the senior most serving military officer.

Noting that Lt. Gen. Silva was one of the senior military officials who contributed significantly to liberate Sri Lanka from terrorism over a decade ago, the Minister said it is disappointing that a foreign government should question the prerogative of a democratically elected President to call upon persons of proven expertise to hold key positions on national security related matters.

The Minister said this action unnecessarily complicates the US-Sri Lanka relationship.

On coming to learn that the designation was not based on independently verified information, but on the much disputed OISL Report of 2015, the Minister requested the United States to verify the authenticity of the sources of information. It was recalled that this report made clear that it was “a human rights investigation and not a a criminal investigation”, and that “the names provided in the description of the chain of command do not imply criminal responsibility for those particularly alleged violations listed in this report, either as direct responsibility or under command or superior responsibility. Individual criminal responsibility can only be determined by a Court of Law with all necessary due process guaranteed.”

The Foreign Relations Minister asked that the United States Government review its decision.

Ambassador Teplitz Informed that she would convey the concerns of the Government of Sri Lanka to Washington DC, and reiterated the continued commitment of the US Government to all aspects of ongoing collaboration with Sri Lanka and to ensure its expansion, including in the field of defence.

Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, Director General/ North America, Dharshana M. Perera, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Relations were associated with the Minister at the meeting. Martin Kelly, Deputy Head of Mission accompanied the US Ambassador to the meeting.

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