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This website is about Sri-Lankan Americans, who are naturalized citizens of the US, or those born to them in the US Sri-Lankans are a multi-ethnic, diverse group of people-Singhalese, Tamils, Moors (Muslims), Burghers, and other of various religious denominations- Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians living together for many centuries.

Vision Statement:
The Unifying voice between President Obama, Sri-Lankan Americans, and the people of Sri- Lanka.

Mission Statement:
The Sri-Lankan Americans for President Obama seeks to foster a spirit of cooperation and harmony among all the people of the United States and the people of Sri-Lanka. We embrace the ideals of love, brotherhood, and non-violence to benefit the US and to free our brothers and sisters in Sri-Lanka from the vicious cycle of hate, bigotry, and extremism. We enlist educational and religious leaders to propagate social justice and peace. Finally, we a factual resource for accurate, unbiased information on the current situation in Sri-Lanka, and dedicated to the principles of the Rule of Law, Transparency, and Accountability.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ambassador Blake’s remarks at the Foundation for Co-Existence Youth Conference on War Termination

Dr. Fernando: Thanks for your note. After reading your email, I am taking the liberty of sending you the text of a speech I gave recently on the humanitarian and political situation to a large group of young leaders. Regards, Bob Blake

From Gandhi and Martin Luther King to Obama: New Challenges and Threats”
March 6, 2009, Hotel Taj Samudra
Good morning and thank you for the invitation.

It’s always a pleasure to speak at events organized by the Foundation for Coexistence and by my friend, Kumar Rupasinghe. I have worked with Kumar on a number of projects together to promote peace in Sri Lanka and I am honored that he invited me to hold a discussion with you. Kumar knows that I have a particular soft spot for young people and will accept almost any opportunity to interact with young people because you are the future of this country. More on that later.

I speak to you today, only about six weeks after a new era began in my country. Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American President in my country’s history. His election marks a great moment in American history. And much of the credit for his election is due to the efforts of young people across the United States. The evening of his inauguaration he spoke briefly at the Youth Ball, one of many official inaugural balls that were held in Washington to celebrate the inauguration. At the Youth Ball the President said the following: “when you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey when nobody gave us a chance, was carried forward, was inspired by, was energized by young people all across America.”

He continued---“As this is broadcast all around the world we know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before us. Where there is war they imagine peace. Where there is hunger they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is bigotry they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus you showed on this campaign.” All of you in this room should take heart. President Obama’s remarks were also directed to you, the young leaders of Sri Lanka. You, the youth of Sri Lanka, the future of Sri Lanka, are at an important moment in your country’s history. Yes, political leaders play an important role in making decisions that could foster a durable peace on the island. But politicians can’t and shouldn’t do it alone, and frankly they haven’t done a very good job thus far after 25 years of war!

Echoing President Obama’s remarks, I believe that young people in Sri Lanka should dare to hope for a new and brighter future for yourselves and for your country. And you must not wait for others to act because your parent’s generation failed to act. You are not burdened by the prejudices of the past, but rather fired by the possibilities of the future. With your leadership and creativity, the Sri Lanka you imagine can become a reality.

Today, I want to share with my country’s perspectives on the important choices facing your country. I then want to return to this question, how can the youth of Sri Lanka contribute, not just in the future, but how can you contribute now to foster a durable peace in the country? As I look around this room, I think it’s safe to say that most if not all of you were born after the conflict with the LTTE began in earnest in 1983. Your life has been molded and influenced by the conflict. Check points must seem normal to you. And you must be used to explaining the dynamics of the conflict to a tourist or a friend from abroad or someone you chat with online.
But most of you have probably never been to Jaffna or Trincomalee, although I am sure many of your parents can recall taking the train to Jaffna or going for the weekend to the lovely beaches of the East. Here’s the good news: the reality you’ve known all of your life could soon change. Government forces have confined the LTTE to a small strip of land in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka, a small shadow of the large swaths of territory they controlled even two years ago. It appears the end to one aspect of the conflict is near: the LTTE will no longer hold territory and will no longer be able to wage a conventional war. But the end of the war is in many ways only a beginning. LTTE sleeper cells will likely continue to operate around the country. The Tamil Diaspora will likely continue to send millions of dollars to support the LTTE. I
n short, much work remains before a lasting peace can be achieved.
Let me take a moment to describe what I think leaders can do to support this lasting peace. I think the top priority for the United States today is the safety and welfare of the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans who are trapped in the small safe zone north of Mullaitivu. The LTTE is violating international law by preventing them from leaving the zone, in some cases by shooting those who were attempting to escape. So the most urgent priority is to persuade the LTTE to allow the civilians to leave.

While efforts are underway to achieve that objective, an equally important priority is to ensure the protection and welfare of the civilians while they remain trapped so as to prevent a humanitarian tragedy.

We are very concerned that large numbers of civilians have been killed and injured recently in crossfire between the LTTE and Government forcers. We have urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint to protect civilians. In practical terms that means the LTTE should not fire out of the safe zone and the Government should not fire in.
It is also essential that both sides allow sufficient supplies of food, medicine and water to reach the civilians. Some supplies have gotten in, but not enough. We are very disturbed by recent reports of possible starvation, and deaths from diarrheal disease.

Another very high priority for the Government is to provide for the needs of those displaced by fighting in the north and to resettle them to their original villages as soon as demining can be completed. The U.S. has been helping in these efforts by providing 28 million dollars worth of food assistance for distribution by the World Food Program. Continued government support for the people in the camps, with full access by the UN, ICRC and other humanitarian organizations, is not only critical for the health, safety and welfare of the displaced, but it will also help bolster confidence among Tamils inside the country and among the Diaspora, creating an environment of greater trust. Turning to the military situation, it is clear that Government forces will soon control all territory in the north with the exception of the safe zone. But that will not end the violence because the LTTE has sleeper cells in many parts of the country, who may continue to enjoy financial support from the Tamil Diaspora.

For there to be a lasting and durable peace, all parties must find a political solution to the conflict where the aspirations of all communities are safeguarded, promoted and preserved. This terrible war has divided this nation. It has bred mistrust and contempt among some for others. These emotions won’t disappear with the end of the war. They will continue to divide Sri Lanka and could foster continued instability and possibly even violence. All parties must therefore work together toward a power sharing arrangement in which the rights of all communities are protected, and each community is able to make decisions on issues directly affecting their communities and live in peace and dignity. How can this be achieved? I think there are three particularly important steps. First it is critical to hold free and fair provincial council elections as soon as possible to restore democracy to the North for the first time in more than two decades. An important part of the credibility of those elections will be for the Government and other parties to choose candidates for Chief Minister who will be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of Tamils in the North.

Second, the government should actively support the implementation of the 13th Amendment by overcoming the obstacles that have prevented implementation for 20 years. This includes particularly the reluctance of Ministers and other leaders at the center to cede control over finances and appointments that are important sources of power and patronage for them.
Implementation of the 13th amendment will allow communities to make decisions and have authority over the day-to-day affairs that are the most important in their lives. President Rajapaksa supports implementation and knows it would help promote a dynamic state that is responsive to the needs and wishes of the people. But his leadership will be needed to make sure implementation takes place.

Finally, an important third step is a successful completion of the All Parties Representative Committee (APRC) process and implementation of its recommendations. Under the able leadership of Professor Tissa Vitharana, the APRC has made significant progress toward creating a blueprint for constitutional change. Unfortunately, neither the UNP nor the SLFP thus far have endorsed any of the changes. For the process to be successful, both parties must work together with minority parties to fashion constitutional changes that will help build a durable peace in the country.

As I mentioned in the outset, politicians have a role in creating a united and peaceful Sri Lanka, but so too does Sri Lanka’s youth. One pet peeve of mine when I attend speeches or conferences for youth in this country and elsewhere is that people always to speak to youth as “tomorrow’s leaders.” Sure, that may be true. But the message that I want to impart to you, is that you are as much “today’s leaders” as you are tomorrow’s leaders.
As I prepared my remarks, I learned that people under the age of 30 represent over 50 percent of the population. That is a tremendous number of people and proves that both as individuals and collectively you can work to build the country that you imagine.
The question is how can you become active? Largely this is a question that you have to find answers to yourself.

But, I can think of a few suggestions. First, get to know better other youth from around the country. As I said, the 25-year conflict has created deep wounds and left scars on Sri Lanka and its people. One way to build trust and understanding is to listen to the opinions of other youth from different backgrounds, ethnic, social and religious backgrounds alike--- listen to their hopes and aspirations and share with them yours. As President Obama showed in his campaign, technologies like FACEBOOK provide tremendous new and accessible ways to network and share ideas.

I think what you’ll find is that many of your hopes for your future and for your country’s future are the same. Again, I commend the Foundation for Co-Existence for creating events that help foster that dialogue. But I encourage you all to seek out additional opportunities.
Second, become politically active. As President Obama mentioned in his speech, one of the main reasons he was elected was due to the energy, excitement and hard work of young. Literally millions of young people became involved in his campaign. Some of them donated money, some of them joined Facebook groups, some organized meetings with their friends to talk about his policy proposals, some went door-to-door talking to Americans about candidate Obama, and some even worked directly on his campaign as advisors . In fact, his chief speechwriter, John Favreaua, at 27 years old has crafted some of Obama’s most powerful speeches.
I’ve talked to young people in Sri Lanka about this phenomenon in this year’s U.S. election. I often hear from them, “sure, it worked in the U.S., but it’s not possible in Sri Lanka.” I think it is very much possible. One of the fuels of the youth movement in the United States, in India and around the world has been technology. From the internet to text messaging, youth understand the power and potential of new technologies. You can harness that technology here just as youth have in other parts around the world.

Finally, recognize that as individuals, you can be a force for change. Martin Luther King, Jr said, speaking of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” The Civil Rights Movement was a challenging time in my country---a true test of the resilience of the principles of justice and equality in the United States.

It was through the power of the individual that we made it past those dark days. It was through people like Martin Luther King, Jr who led a movement and mobilized people, black and white, young and old; people like Rosa Parks, who dared to break the law and decided to sit in the front of a bus where white sat, rather than in back; and people like Medger Evers who applied to a law school, was refused because he was black, and then led the efforts to desegregate the university.
Do you know what these people had in common? They all believed that they as individuals could influence change---where there was intolerance, they imagined justice and equality. They had another thing in common: they were all youth. King was 26 when he led the bus boycott, Parks was 30 when she became involved in the Civil Rights movement; and Evers was 29 when he was refused admission into Law School. It was largely due to the efforts of these individuals and millions of other Americans who joined them in their cause that America, our ideals and our values, brought us through the period of division and created the environment where an African American could be elected president.

Since Obama’s election, I have heard time and again: will Sri Lanka ever elect a Tamil or minority as President or Prime Minister? The story of individuals like Martin Luther King Jr, or Rosa Parks, or Barack Obama is not just an American story. It is a story how individuals fought for justice and equality. This can happen anywhere as long as there are people with a vision, with courage, and with leadership.

In closing, your country is at a critical crossroads. Now is a period of great optimism and hope that the wounds of war will soon be healed. Much is to be done. I mentioned some of my country’s perspectives on some important political choices that should be made. But, it is and will be up to you, to harness this moment, this opportunity and create the country that you young people across Sri Lanka imagine for themselves and for their future.

Thank you again and I look forward to your comments and questions.