http://www.tamilguardian.com/opinions.htm#US Wednesday March 21 2001:
US Ambassador replies to Tamil Guardian
The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr. Ashley Wills, responds to
the Tamil Guardian editorial, of March 14(se nedenfor) which raised
issues from the speech he gave to the residents of Jaffna
Please feel free to publish this. In fact, given your strong
reaction to my Jaffna speech, I shall appreciate your having the
courtesy to publish this.
I read with great interest and equally great dismay your
editorial regarding my speech in Jaffna. You have interpreted my
remarks very curiously and seem keen to ascribe the worst intentions
to my government and me.
I did not dismiss Tamil aspirations, as you allege. Indeed, my
government and I personally have great sympathy and respect for the
Tamil people. We are quite aware of the discrimination and violence
that the Tamil people have faced in Sri Lanka over the years,
especially since the 1950’s.
We are also quite aware of the current situation regarding human
rights in Sri Lanka. In the latter regard, please refer your readers
to our Human Rights Report, available at
What I did dismiss is the idea of an independent Tamil Ealam.
If that is what the LTTE is fighting for, it is pursuing an
unattainable vision and in so doing it is making many people,
including Tamils, suffer. We believe Tamil aspirations can be met
through negotiations that will yield a new political system in Sri
Lanka, one that guarantees equal rights and protection under the law
for all citizens of this country. Such a system could well feature a
unit or units of the state where Tamils are the overwhelming majority.
That is not our business; it is for the negotiators, representing the
Sri Lankan government and the Tamils, to decide.
My point about Sri Lanka’s diversity was aimed both at Tamil and
Sinhalese chauvinists, who seem to believe that the whole country or
some part of it is the exclusive domain of their ethnic group. Such a
view, I repeat, is extreme, intolerant and it also defies reality:
Tamils are not the only people living in Sri Lanka’s north and east;
Sinhalese are not the only people living elsewhere in the country.
I can understand why Tamils are proud of their ethnic identity.
I can also understand that the discrimination against them in Sri
Lanka has frustrated and angered them and made them even more acutely
aware of their ethnicity. This is one of the saddest aspects of Sri
Lanka’s conflict: one’s ethnicity, rather than one’s individual
qualities, has taken on too much importance.
Most of the Tamils I have met, nevertheless, seem comfortable
with the prospect of living in a democratic, multi-racial,
multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society that encompasses far more
territory than Tamil Eelam. They also seem profoundly uncomfortable
with the LTTE’s tactics of targeting civilians and eliminating those
who disagree with its leadership.
The U.S. Government wants Tamils, Sinhalese and others to live
in peace, in a democracy and in a place that permits them to go about
their daily lives with dignity and security. Sri Lanka can be such a
place, and it can be such a place without further violence from the
LTTE or the Sri Lankan security forces.
The purpose of my speech in Jaffna was to show respect for the
Tamil people by speaking honestly to them about my government’s view.
E. Ashley Wills
Tamil Guardian responds to the US Ambassador’s objections
The Tamil Guardian's editorial team responds to objections
raised by US Ambassador Ashley Wills to their leading opinion of
March14 regarding his speech in Jaffna.
We thank you for your letter in response to our editorial of
March 14, which we read with great interest and are reproducing in
full. We would like to respond to the issues and objections you raised
Your Jaffna speech became a subject of much discussion and
controversy in the Tamil community, both in the island and amongst the
Diaspora. Our interpretation of your statement, as curious as you may
have found it to be, reflects widely expressed and held sentiments
amongst the community. Any intentions ascribed to your government and
yourself are based on what you said in Jaffna, and also on the actions
taken and sentiments expressed by your government during the course of
the bloody conflict in general.
We feel it is fair to say that the Tamil community as a whole
was dismayed and outraged by your comments in Jaffna. We are certain
that our 'strong' reaction was not the only response you have received
since. And as you were speaking as a representative of the United
States, the sentiments are directed towards your government and its
policies pertaining to the Tamils also.
The primary issue has been your summary reduction of the Tamils,
who constitute themselves a distinct nation of people, to that of a
mere ethnic minority in a Sinhala-Buddhist country. Most importantly,
you challenged the Tamil people's claim on their traditional
homelands, dismissing the notion as ethnic supremacy or chauvinism.
You drew parallels to your own country's ethnic situation and
territorial arrangements as the basis for this position.
Your argument is flawed, Whilst no group of Americans - except
the American Indians - can stake a historical claim to a part of your
relatively young country's territory as a traditional homeland, many
people in other parts of the world most certainly can. We suspect your
dismissal of a people's homeland concept will draw the same reaction
in Israel or East Timor or Tamil Nadir, for example, as has come fro-m
the Tamil community in the island. It is the notion that an ethnically
constituted people cannot claim the land of their ancestors, where
they still reside, as their traditional homeland, that defies reality.
Whilst the issues of ethnicity, identity, nationhood and
statehood are subject to widespread academic study and are topics of
much debate, the fact that the Tamils have been living in the north
and east of the island for a considerable period is the basis for
their consideration of that region of their homeland. This is not
ethnic purism as you contemptuously describe it, nor is it chauvinism.
It is simply a people collectively defining where they consider their
home in the world to be. In the Tamils case, that does not infer the
rejection of non-Tamils residing there - but it does infer the
rejection of imposing or aggressive immigration or colonisation.
In your letter, you deny that you dismissed Tamil aspirations in
your Jaffna speech. We disagree. The public protests over the past
three months by large sections of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka
have been based almost universally on their demand for
self-determination. That is what the Tamil people aspire to. By
dismissing their claim on their homeland, you effectively challenge
their basis for self-determination and thus reject this aspiration.
Moreover, the Tamil community feels that to be your specific objective
in making your comments.
From your letter, we are to understand that your government and
you personally have great sympathy and respect for the Tamil people.
You also say that you are aware of the discrimination and violence
they have faced since the fifties.
Yet, paradoxically, you insist that the Tamil people must remain
prisoner to those conditions of discrimination and violence and not be
allowed to rule themselves, free from these bonds. The Tamils, if we
are to understand your position, must wait for Sri Lanka's
Sinhala-Buddhist governors to one day "lighten up and give the Tamils
If, as you say, you "understand that the discrimination against
the Tamils in Sri Lanka has frustrated and angered them and made them
even more acutely aware of their ethnicity," you ought to be prepared
to support their goal of self-governance, free of such discrimination.
Yet you oppose an independent Tamil Eelam as an "unattainable vision."
Your have a curious argument for this. You say that there are
many Tamils who "seem comfortable with the prospect of living in a
democratic, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society." But
the majority of Tamils also feel that this, in fact, is an
unattainable vision in a Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka. You feel
different, but the events of the past fifty years provide you no basis
to do so.
Conversely, we do not know any Tamils who would prefer to live
in a discriminatory Sinhala-Buddhist country rather than an
independent Tamil state (actually we do know one, but we suspect he
wouldn't be welcome there anyway!).
We also note, that whilst you are quite specific in what the
Tamils cannot aspire to, i.e. a separate state, you are less that keen
to suggest a system that will guarantee them equal rights, hastily
arguing "that is not our business" and leaving it to the negotiators
representing the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils.
Which brings us to the issue of the Tamil leadership. The Tamil
protestors in government-controlled areas have universally endorsed
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as their representatives
in any negotiations with Sri Lanka's government. All the Tamil parties
in Colombo -save one - have directly told you the same thing. But that
is unacceptable to you. You are still looking for some other entity:
the Tamil people apparently, have to pick another representative more
to your liking.
Furthermore, the argument you suggest for not accepting the LTTE
- that many Tamils you have met "are uncomfortable with the LTTE's
targeting of civilians" - is untenable. A large number of Americans we
have met are uncomfortable with the deaths of civilians in US military
attacks in Iraq and the Balkans and the targeting of civilians in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but none of them suggest the US government
does not represent them or their interests.
Furthermore, your begrudging acceptance that the LTTE needs to
be included in negotiations on account of its military assets, casts
considerable doubt on your sincerity over Tamil political rights. One
might argue that the LTTE needs to be accepted as the representative
of the Ta-mils since no other entity with any popular support wishes
to take its place and the Tamil community has been publicly endorsing
You may believe that Tamil aspirations can be met through
negotiations between the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government, as an
internal affair or local matter. We remain strongly sceptical.
President Chandrika Kumaratunge ran into more than a little trouble
when she brought-ht her devolution proposals to Parliament: despite
the entrenchment of Sinhala-Buddhist dominance in the package, the
Sinhala far-right led by the Buddhist clergy, derailed it without a
No "concession" to the Tamils has stood the test of even short
time, under Sinhala nationalist vehemence. Moreover, your government's
actions and position embolden the Sinhala nationalists. The US
proscription of the LTTE as terrorists and refusal to accept the
organisation as the representatives of the Tamil community, are inline
with the Sinhala nationalist position. Arguably, this, along with US
military support for the Sri Lanka military is instrumental in
bolstering Sinhala intransigence towards seeking a negotiated
settlement with the Tamils.
Finally, you lament that one's ethnicity, rather than one's
individual qualities, has taken on too much importance in Sri Lanka.
We agree. But this, we feel, is irreversible now. We also feel that
your government and now, yourself, have - admittedly amongst others -
aided and encouraged this. Unfortunately, since the fifties, the
matter of ethnicity has gradually become part of the Sri Lankan
constitution, defining one race, the Buddhist Sinhalese, as supreme.
The implementation of that sentiment is the basis reinforcing the
Tamil identity and search for political independence today, and making
the conflict increasingly intractable.
Our sentiments expressed in the issue dated March 14 were based
on your speech to the people of Jaffna, the context in which it was
made and the objective conditions surrounding the Tamil question in
Sri Lanka today. Having read your letter and considered its contents,
we respectfully continue to stand by our editorial