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Public Statements

Sri Lanka

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I rise to encourage our Department of State to review its current policies regarding the country of Sri Lanka, and seek further engagement with its leadership so as to assist them as they continue their progress toward complete reconciliation and reconstruction after 30 years of the civil war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists.

As you know, four years ago Sri Lanka defeated the Tamil rebels, and is currently recovering from the economic, political, and social upheaval caused by this destructive civil war. Peace has brought historic post-conflict recovery, and I find that Sri Lanka has brought the dividends of peace in an inclusive manner, in particular to those in the north and the east of the country from where suicide bombers and other terrorist attacks were once launched.

It is my understanding that, since the war ended, those two areas have seen an economic growth of 22%, compared to an average of 7.5% in the rest of the country. It is also my understanding that Sri Lanka has removed half a million anti-personnel mines, resettled 300,000 internally displaced people and re-established vital social services in the areas of health and education. It is making progress in other areas of reconciliation in accordance with its legislative and budgetary procedures, and is expected to conduct elections in the north in September--an important step towards political reconciliation. Such processes take time, as we have learned from our own Civil War.

It seems to me that Sri Lanka is developing into a key economy, both in its own right and as a gateway to India. It is my understanding that U.S. private investment there totals billions in long term Sri Lankan bonds. Such investments there, however, are not as visible as the airports and harbors financed by China and other governments. Regardless, it is my understanding that at this time, Sri Lanka continues to present a unique window of investment opportunities for U.S. companies.

In addition, Sri Lanka's geo-strategic location and deep-water ports could be vital to the long term financial and national security interests of the U.S. Some 50% of all container traffic and 70% of the world's energy supplies pass within sight of the Sri Lankan coast.

Understandably, U.S. policies towards Sri Lanka have focused on accountability for what happened during the last phases of the civil war as well as on steps toward reconciliation efforts that seek inclusion of former terrorist enemies into the democratic process. While these aspects are very important and deserving of support, I believe there is the opportunity to engage in a wider approach at the same time that takes into account economic and geostrategic considerations. Maybe a wider approach would have a positive influence overall.

I have expressed these points recently in correspondence to Secretary Kerry, urging him to undertake at the Department of State a review of our current policies towards Sri Lanka to ensure that we not only encourage continued reconciliation that includes political transparency especially in the upcoming election in the north but also recognize Sri Lanka's potential to be a strong financial and national security ally in the future.

Secretary Kerry has replied agreeing with me that promising economic growth is occurring in Sri Lanka after years of terrorist insurgency, and that this country can play a significant geopolitical role in U.S. strategic security interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The State Department, however, points out that Sri Lanka still needs to achieve ``meaningful reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and Tamil and Muslim minorities.''

I take the State Department at its word, and believe the upcoming September 7 Provincial Council elections in the north can be a meaningful act of reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and Tamil Muslim minorities. And if they are deemed to be conducted in a free and fair manner, I will renew my request to Secretary Kerry to re-access our current policies towards Sri Lanka.

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