Statement by Minister Cannon on Sri Lanka Situation

(No. 110 - April 24, 2009)The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement concerning recent developments in the situation in Sri Lanka and the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE):

"I would like to provide an update on the current situation in Sri Lanka and the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Canada is deeply concerned about the recent military operations in the northeast corner of the country and reported increases in civilian casualties.

"On April 11, I issued a statement expressing concern about the safety of civilians trapped in the conflict zone. I called on both parties to implement a pause to ensure full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to those in need. The Government of Sri Lanka, unilaterally, put in place such a pause on April 13 and ;14. However, the LTTE prevented many civilians from leaving the conflict zone.

"On April 19, I issued a statement calling on both parties to work toward a rapid political resolution and to meet their humanitarian obligations. On the same day, I spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and raised our humanitarian concerns, which included access to food, water, sanitation and medical support. I also conveyed Canada's support in responding to the humanitarian crisis.

"The UN Security Council has voiced deep concern about Sri Lanka and on April 22 the UN demanded that the LTTE lay down its arms.

"Canada is very concerned about reports of LTTE suicide bombings. Canada calls on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave territory it controls and to allow the safe and free movement of civilians under its control. The Government of Canada continues to demand that the LTTE lay down its arms. Canada listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization under the Criminal Code in 2006.

"Since the Sri Lankan military reportedly broke through LTTE defensive earthworks, many civilians have escaped the conflict area. As of today, the Government of Sri Lanka states that over 100,000 people have crossed over into government territory. However, credible reports indicate that ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians, who have only minimal access to medical care. The U.S. State Department reports continued firing from both sides into the No-Fire Zone.

"I have spoken with the U.K.'s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband, Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India's Minister of External Affairs Shri Pranab Mukherjee to register Canada's grave concern about the April 20 resumption by the Sri Lankan military of a ground offensive in the No-Fire Zone, and to seek support in ensuring the adoption of a humanitarian pause.

"On April 22, I spoke with Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama to call for a halt to the current offensive to allow safe and voluntary movement of civilians from the combat zone, and to ensure full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to those in need. I expressed our concerns about civilian casualties and stressed the need for UN surveillance of the evacuation of civilians and the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). I also offered Canadian humanitarian assistance for IDPs, once their needs have been assessed.

"Canada's greatest concern now is the safety of civilians still trapped in the conflict zone, however it remains very difficult to determine how many civilians remain there. We have been calling on both parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of civilians, which includes clearly distinguishing civilians from combatants and ensuring civilians are not attacked. Canada holds the Government of Sri Lanka to a higher standard for its actions and obligations than it would a terrorist organization.

"I have instructed our high commissioner in Colombo, Angela Bogdan, to continue Canada's engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka on the need for assistance to IDPs. Our high commissioner will continue her engagement at the highest levels.

"Our government supports the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka (Norway, Japan, the United States and the European Union) and their April 24 statement calling for the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to end hostilities, and for UN staff to be allowed into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the evacuation of civilians. Canada calls on the government to show leadership in building the confidence of the people of Sri Lanka, which is necessary to support a lasting peace.

"The conflict has already caused much suffering over the last 26 years. We want to see it end immediately. I have reiterated that this conflict cannot be resolved militarily. Our government continues to call for a new, meaningful and durable political solution that will address the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Sri Lanka. Our government will continue to engage with like-minded countries at the highest levels in working for urgent progress to ensure the safety and security of all of the people of Sri Lanka."

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For further information, media representatives may contact:

Natalie Sarafian
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs
613-995-1851

Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
613-995-1874