MPs Written to IORA about SOFA

A letter addressed to the Secretary-General of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) about US Sri Lanka agreements, which are likely to pose a threat to regional and international peace and security was handed over to the South African High Commissioner this morning.

The letter has been signed by 21 individuals including political party leaders as well as parliamentarians Dullas Alahapperuma, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and Susil Premajayantha.

The letter refers to the decision of the Council of Ministers of IORA, at its meeting in Bengaluru in November 2011, to assign Maritime Safety and Security as its top priority area of focus acknowledging the importance of a safe and secure Indian Ocean for socio-economic development.

It adds that attempts are being made to transform Sri Lanka into a US strategic military hub in the Indian Ocean through three military or military-related agreements. The letter aims to highlight that this is a project that is incompatible with the Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and violates the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

The three concerns highlighted in the letter are

1. Under Acquisitions and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) Sri Lanka agrees to provide the The United States with logistical and other support for, inter alia, “unforeseen circumstances or exigencies.“ In other words, it allows utilization and exploitation by US forces of Sri Lanka’s
strategic harbours, airports and military installations for large-scale power projection operations in and through the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) area of responsibility, which will transform Sri Lanka into a launchpad for attacks of aggression against third countries in our region.

2. Secret negotiations are ongoing on a new Status of Forces Agreement which permits Department of Defence (DoD) military and civilian personnel, as well as DoD contractors, to occupy the entire territory of Sri Lanka, including, inter alia, for “other activities mutually agreed,” in addition to its use for “ship visits, training exercises, (and) humanitarian activities;” exempts DoD personnel from criminal jurisdiction; grants them diplomatic privileges and immunities; authorizes their entry into the country with only US identification; allows their free movement to any part of Sri Lankan territory, wearing military uniform and carrying weapons.

3. Millennium Challenge Compact is a third secret agreement signed on 25 April 2019 involving a land project and a transport project that will create an “economic corridor” involving 8 districts and which reportedly covers 1.2 million acres and divides the country into two parts. An electric train will connect the strategic northeastern port of Trincomalee to Colombo’s international airport and harbour in the west, thus facilitating the movement of US troops and other DoD personnel between Sri Lanka’s strategic ports and airport.

The signatories of the letter appeal to the IORA Member States as a matter of priority, to take urgent measures in conformity with their obligations under the IORA Charter and the Charter of the United Nations.

Professor Tissa Vitharana, the leader of the leftist Lanka Sama Samaja party addressing a media briefing today commented on why the United States is aggressively pushing these agreements with Sri Lanka. He explained that the United States has lost its right to continue military operations in Diego Garcia, which was its anchor in the Indian Ocean region. Professor Vitharana notes that the United States is searching for a quick alternative and that they have picked Sri Lanka as this alternative.

Tamara Kunanayakam, Fmr. Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva believes that the US agreements are not transparent and that the state was not properly informed about what they were entering into.

Kunanayakam states that ACSA allows the United States to use “our military, our navy our armed forces and our air force the forces that defend our territorial integrity,” along with military installations that Sri Lankans are paying for.

“If the US is here, its not here because Sri Lanka needs to be defended.”- Tamara Kunanayagam

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