John Hockenberry: The government says it has totally defeated the Tamil Tigers. A military spokesman said in a special television broadcast that all of the territory previously held by the rebels has now been taken by the Sri Lankan army. The army is reporting it has killed the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. There has been no independent confirmation of that particular claim. Joining us now from Colombo, to give us a sense of what is going on on the ground and the significance of this issue that both the President and the Secretary of State have made statements about as recently as last week is Ambassador Robert Blake. He’s the Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives since September, 2006, and will be returning to Washington soon to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs. First of all Ambassador, what is the situation? Is the war actually over at this point?
Robert Blake: First of all, let me correct you slightly. The President has been kind enough to nominate me for a new position, but I have not yet been confirmed by the Senate, so I remain Ambassador in Sri Lanka. But with respect to the situation here in Sri Lanka, as your reporter said, the Sri Lankan military has achieved a very important milestone. As of today, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam no longer control any territory in Sri Lanka, for the first time in more than 20 years. As you said earlier, the government has also announced that all of the senior leadership of the LTTE, including its leader, Prabhakaran , have been killed, although we do not have independent confirmation of that. But at the same time, there’s a very deep sadness in the Tamil community because of the trauma that they’ve suffered. Most of the population of the Northern province, which is overwhelmingly Tamil and was previously controlled by the LTTE, has been displaced over the last two years of fighting, and they’re now more than 300,000 displaced people in IDP camps. Sri Lanka today is a country that is very deeply divided and it is very important for the country to begin urgently the process of healing and reconciliation, so that they can turn the page on this bloody and violent past and build a new Sri Lanka.
John Hockenberry: Ambassador, what is the U.S. role here? With the Congress party winning a decisive victory, it would appear, in India. India, which has normally been the broker in this conflict, is now free to re-enter. Is the U.S., along with India, a possible broker here for what the future may hold for this very, very tense situation between these two ethnic groups?
Amb. Robert Blake : The United States has long been involved in peace efforts here in Sri Lanka. We are a member of what is called the Co-Chairs, which is a donor group that was set up after a donor conference in Tokyo several years ago. We are part of that group along with the EU and Norway. The Indians are not part of that group, but we consult very closely with them. All of us have been calling for years now for a political solution to this conflict, and we continue to call for a political solution. Just because the LTTE no longer controls territory, they remain a very significant factor. They have a large fundraising network overseas. They have a large network of sleeper cells around the country who have the ability to strike at any time. So a political solution remains very important to bring an end to this conflict.
John Hockenberry: Ambassador, I didn’t mean to sidestep your Senate confirmation, but if you are confirmed, what do you make of the significance of Indian election and the outcome that we learned on Saturday before we go??
Amb. Robert Blake : I think that the Indian election is very, very important. We’ve had very good relations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who stakes his election campaign on good relations with the United States and as you know he concluded recently a civil nuclear deal with his government. I think one of the most important relationships with us in the 21st century will be for us to cement our strategic partnership with our Indian friends. President Obama has said that India is going to be a very important partner in addressing the global challenges we face, and will be a global power for the rest of this century.
John Hockenberry: Well you’ll certainly be involved in all of that. Ambassador Robert Blake, Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives since September, 2006.