A senior government official was responding to a section of the international community and NGOs funded by Western powers pushing for an international war crimes tribunal regardless of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The official told ‘The Island’ that those politicians and officials, wanting the US to haul Sri Lanka up before a war crimes tribunal, should peruse the Bilateral Impunity Agreement (BIA) finalized by the then UNP-led UNF government on behalf of Sri Lanka and the US in July 2004. In fact, the US had signed BIAs with all member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) during 2003 and 2004 to counter the adverse impact on the US military due to the Rome Statute empowering the International Criminal Court (ICC) to come into force on July 1, 2002.
The BIAs, considered a central part of the US strategy to counter threats to its personnel, underscored the importance of the SAARC region in the US-led battle against terrorism, the official said. The US concluded BIAs with India and Pakistan on June 30, 2003 and Nov.6, 2003, respectively.
The then Wickremesinghe’s administration had accepted the BIA without any alterations as demanded by the US in spite of a section of the Foreign Ministry strongly opposing it, the official said. According to the now exposed secret US diplomatic cable sent by US ambassador in Colombo, E. Ashley Wills, who had signed the BIA with the then Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando, Ministers, G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda had fully backed Wickremesinghe’s growing relationship with the US.
The government said Sri Lanka had also supported US military operations with a blanket over-flight and landing approvals as well as access to ports.
The official said that 9/11 had forced the US to increase its relationship with SAARC countries in an effort to meet the threat posed by the Taliban operating in Afghanistan. Asked to comment on the status of the BIA, the official said that it remained intact.
The US launched a project in 2002 to reach BIAs with individual countries and so far, about 100 countries, including Israel and Egypt have signed the BIA agreement. Sources pointed out that Egypt was the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. Parties to the BIAs agreed not to surrender officials of respective countries to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Sources said that the BIA effectively barred the parties to the agreement from either directly or indirectly cooperating with the ICC.
The failure on the part of any partner to a particular BIA would raise a cloud over the entire process, sources said.
In spite of then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s PA not being in agreement, which undermined the ICC, she nor her successor, Mahinda Rajapaksa have done nothing to jeopardize the relationship. Political sources pointed out that President Rajapaksa, during his first term entered into the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US to facilitate US military operations. Sources said that the US had negotiated with Wickremesighe regarding ACSA during his tenure as Premier (Dec 2001 to Apr 2004), though the pact was never signed due to protests. However, the US and Sri Lanka finalized the agreement in March 2007 at the height of the war in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Asked whether Sri Lanka had reached similar military agreements with any other country, sources said that though successive government maintained close ties with several countries in the region, the country had never contemplated bilateral agreements with any party.
Sources said that the relationship with the US paved the way for Sri Lanka to take delivery of the one-time US Coast Guard vessel (USCGS Courageous), which played an important role in hunting down some of the LTTE ships on the high seas, receiving intelligence regarding the presence of some LTTE ships carrying arms, an unprecedented crackdown on those trying to procure arms on behalf of the LTTE, secure 30mm weapons mounted on Fast Attack Craft (FACs) and the inclusion of the LTTE in the US list of proscribed organizations.