Speaking on the ‘importance of common strategies for global and regional maritime security’ at the inaugural session of Galle Dialogue 2011, Robert Scher, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia, went out of his way to declare that the Obama administration expected Sri Lanka to take tangible action on the human rights front. Scher called for genuine national reconciliation process and concrete steps to bring about national reconciliation.
He emphasized that the success of post-war reconciliation depended on action on the part of Sri Lanka on human rights concerns.
US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis was among the invitees seated in the front-row of the audience.
The two-day event is attended by Australia, China, India, Iran, Kenya, the Maldives, Oman, the Philippines, Russia, Bangladesh, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, South Korea and the US.
The UK and South Africa pulled out of the conference at the eleventh hour, while India is represented by an officer holding the rank of Captain, though initially a senior officer was expected to present a paper on ‘Indian navy’s perspective on regional maritime cooperation: the way ahead.’
Scher discussed a range of issues, with the focus on the deteriorating situation in Somalia, the hub for operations launched by pirates in spite of the presence of international naval forces off the coast. Emphasizing the importance of the international community working together to neutralize the threat posed by pirates, the US official recalled the sea-borne raid on Mumbai in 2008 to highlight the need for co-operation among countries.
According to international news agencies, among the persons held for the Mumbai attack is David Headley, one-time US agent, who had allegedly helped a Pakistan-based terrorist group to plan the massacre. The US declined to hand over the suspect to India, though India was given access subsequently in the wake of protests.
Scher also raised the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, while categorizing North Korea as a major threat to world peace and stability.
Scher said that the US was in the process of reviewing its position in the region due to rapid developments, particularly some regional players increasing their military capability.
US and Australia recently announced plans to increase US military presence in Australia. to counter what they term rapid Chinese military expansion, according to international media reports.
The US official said that the Galle Dialogue 2011 was an excellent forum for Sri Lanka to share its experience in fighting maritime terrorism.
Vice Admiral Ding Yiping, Deputy Commander of the Chinese Navy explained their position, with the emphasis on their right to protect their waters as well as expand and modernize the fleet. Yiping discussed how the Chinese were pushing for closer relations with other nations, while detailing their role in ongoing coalition operations aimed at containing those pirates operating from Somalia