A group of Congress members have urged President Barack Obama to strengthen ties between the United States and Sri Lanka, noting Sri Lanka’s May 2009 triumph over terrorism, its flourishing trade ties with U.S. companies and its regional strategic importance.
“After three decades of internal strife, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to move forward as a unified nation guided by its democratic ideals and institutions,” they said in a letter addressed to President Obama.
“For the first time in more than a generation, the United States has an opportunity to develop a relationship with a united Sri Lanka,” the letter said. “Accordingly, we urge your Administration to take steps to strengthen our ties with Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka, a southeast Asian democracy of 21 million, will soon enter its third year of lasting peace and growing prosperity since the end of its conflict with the terrorist group Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam.
Since the terrorist group’s defeat, there have been no further terrorist incidents, while Sri Lanka’s GDP climbed to 8.4 percent in 2011, unemployment dropped to 4.3 percent and inflation also dropped markedly to about 5 percent.
Island-wide presidential, parliamentary and local elections have been held to usher in a period of post-conflict leadership, the first time many Sri Lankans were not prevented from voting by the terrorist group.
The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.,) and signed by 11 other members of Congress in both the Democrat and Republican parties. Rep. Kingston was one of three congressmen who traveled to Sri Lanka last fall to explore its post-conflict reconciliation and development work. Representatives Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), also took part in the trip and signed the letter.
The letter notes that Sri Lanka has, “opened dialogues with a number of U.S. companies for the acquisition of heavy equipment, aircrafts, energy technologies and other products,” and it highlights the importance strengthening, “Our mutual strategic interests in foreign policy and defense by maintaining the peace in the waterways near and along the Indian Ocean and continuing a military training partnership.”
The letter also emphasizes Sri Lanka’s post-conflict efforts to resettle the displaced and rebuild stricken areas and pursue a program of reconciliation among its ethnic groups.
“We welcome Sri Lanka's willingness to preemptively report on its civil conflict by establishing a politically diverse and independent Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,” the letter states. “As Sri Lanka pursues these positive steps, it should know it has a friend in the United States.”
Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasruiya, praised the Congressional call for stronger Sri Lankan-U.S. ties.
“We welcome this call for even stronger relations between Sri Lanka and the U.S.,” Ambassador Wickramasuriya said. “We have had diplomatic relations with the U.S. for 64 years, and we have always supported its strategic and trade priorities. We are also a partner in the fight against terrorism. Both of our democracies will benefit from the initiatives these Congressional leaders propose.”
Those members of Congress who signed the letter include Representatives Kingston (R-Ga.,), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Hansen Clark (D-Mich.,), Daniel Lapinski (D-Ill.), David Reichert, Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.,) Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Michael T. McCall (R-Tx.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)