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US suspends SOFA talks till presidential poll is over

The United States has told Sri Lanka that it will suspend talks on the controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Sri Lanka until the presidential election is over.

US Ambassador Alaina B.Teplitz outlined her country’s position during a meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena. She had sought such a meeting weeks earlier and the President expressed regrets that a meeting before was not possible.

Ambassador Teplitz also told President Sirisena that the time frame for MCC Sri Lanka Compact for US $ 480 million had now ended. The UNF Government together with the MCC identified transport and land issues. The government arrived at a final package of country-led, country-owned activities for potential MCC funding in these two fields.

“We respect Sri Lanka’s right to discuss the matter on a later occasion,” Teplitz told President Sirisena. Following the controversy generated by the SOFA, the President weeks earlier said that such an agreement should not be signed without his approval. He made clear that he was the Minister of Defence and SOFA was a subject that came under his purview.

Ms. Teplitz sought another meeting with President Sirisena on a later occasion so she could introduce her deputy.

A draft copy of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), now under negotiation between the US and Sri Lanka, obtained by the Sunday Times, reveals a number of Washington’s demands that would impinge on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. This was exclusively revealed in the Sunday Times of June 30.

The report said, “The US is seeking that aircraft and vessels of the US Government to be free from boarding and inspection. This means none of the state security arms, like the Navy, Coast Guard or the Customs can board any US military vessel or aircraft when it is in a Sri Lankan airport or sea port — or even vehicles on land and helicopters, an internationally accepted sovereign right of a country. The US wants exemption from licence, Customs duties, taxes and any other charges within Sri Lanka.

“This is not all. The US is also seeking authorisation for its troops to wear uniforms whilst ‘on duty’ in any part of Sri Lanka, carrying arms and radio communications equipment.

“Both in terms of the Sri Lanka Constitution and normal laws, only the armed forces and the Police are empowered to carry out this task. The only exceptions are Sri Lankans who are authorised by licence. In addition, Washington wants US troops and contractors to be allowed to enter and leave Sri Lanka, individually or collectively, with the use of only their US identification. This will mean they will carry no passports or visas.”

Author: TELO Admin