SOFA will not harm Sri Lanka’s sovereignty – Teplitz

Alaina B Teplitz - U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka

The proposed Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to be signed between Sri Lanka and the United States relating to several matters including military training and co-operation is not inimical to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka in any way, US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said.

She said the agreement had not been signed as yet. Discussions are ongoing between the two countries about the agreement and once the two countries reach agreement on it, it will be published in the internet.

The US Ambassador expressed these sentiments when she called on the Malwatte Mahanayake Thera Most. Ven.Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Mahanayake Thera and Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera Most Ven. Warakagoda Gnanarathana Mahanayake Thera at their Aramayas in Kandy on May 23 and held discussions with the two Prelates regarding the current situation in the country and the support extended by the US towards Sri Lanka.

Ambassador Teplitz said the manner in which military training and co-operation between the two countries would take place was included in the clauses of the agreement and more attention had been drawn to it regarding military exercises conducted on the invitation of the Sri Lankan government.

“The manner in which US forces would visit Sri Lanka would be discussed with the government of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Army,” she said.

Teplitz said the present agreement already existing between the two countries signed in 1995 was outdated and it needed to be updated to meet modern times. She said according to media reports problems and issues had cropped up regarding the agreement and if there were any problems and issues it was important to discuss them openly and reach a final agreement.

She said problems could be minimised if both parties worked with proper understanding about the agreement.

She said both governments hoped to reach this agreement by safeguarding transparency. Teplitz said the US had signed several agreements with countries in the Indo – Pacific region on several matters including building close co-operation and these agreements never threatened or influenced the sovereignty of the relevant countries.

She said there was a vast difference between the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka and those of the US. The Sri Lankan Armed forces were restricted to a single country while the US forces extended to several parts of the world.

“Even if US forces arrived in Sri Lanka for military exercises. They would operate under the terms of the agreement only.

She said the birth of extremist groups with distorted ideas had been a common feature in many countries in recent times and the US was assisting all countries affected by such groups. She said the need of the hour was for all religious groups to join hands and work in unity to defeat attempts made to disrupt harmony and reconciliation by spreading rumours and false news.

The Most. Ven. Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter expressing his sentiments said all people in the country should be governed under a single set of laws and regulations.

The Mahanayake Thera said problems arose when laws and regulations were exercised differently according to each and every community.

The Malwatte Prelate said there had been much criticism in recent times about differences among communities regarding the ‘Burqua’ and marriage laws. The Mahanayake Thera said he too had explained that these differences might lead to future problems and his warnings had now come true.

“About 30 years ago Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim children received education together in the same school and the birth of schools for children of different communities in later times had broken inter communal brotherhood,” the Malwatte Chief Prelate said.

He said Sinhala Buddhists wanted to live in harmony with all communities and statements made by certain Muslim leaders about their desire to transforms this into a Muslim state had disrupted national unity.

He said people of Sri Lanka who earlier lived in unity without racial or religious differences had begun to suspect each other due to the acts of barbarians committed by a handful of extremists.The Mahanayake Thera said there were allegations that US forces were trying to take this opportunity to enter Sri Lanka and as such it was the duty of the leaders of both countries to answer these allegations and eradicate the fear and suspicion among the people. He said therefore the best possible step towards this was to publish the clauses of the proposed agreements for the knowledge of the people.

(Source: Daily News – By Asela Kuruluwansa)