USAF strengthens historic American ties to Jaffna: Op-ed by Ambassador Atul Keshap

The first American missionaries arrived in Jaffna in 1813, when the Rev. Samuel Newell founded the first American schools in Thellipalai. Those schools were the first of hundreds of schools and medical centers that provided for the people of northern Sri Lanka.  Continuing this deep connection between our two nations, this week Jaffna is welcoming the U.S. Air Force’s Operation Pacific Angel, which will renovate schools and provide medical services for nearby communities.

I am pleased to be visiting Jaffna this week, to participate in Pacific Angel and to meet with political leaders, civil society, the media and many others.  The United States is committed to the future of all of Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka’s presidential election of January 2015 marked a historic shift in the country’s political direction and made possible a new relationship with the United States.  Sri Lankan voters elected a new government built upon the pledge of good governance and national reconciliation and rejected an increasingly authoritarian rule by a government determined to erode democratic institutions.  Your government has taken many important steps towards a brighter political and economic future, as well as improving relations among Sri Lanka’s diverse population.  Recognizing this, the United States and the international community are increasing our engagement in Sri Lanka.

Most of you have noticed the increasing number of American visitors coming to Sri Lanka, a reflection of the promise by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States will “stand with you as you build a stronger democracy and a future that is marked by peace and prosperity after so many years of suffering and hardship.”  These visits highlight the full spectrum of U.S. support to bolster Sri Lanka’s international relations, economic growth, development assistance, and military professionalism.

We all remember the horrors of the past, the violence of three decades and the anti-democratic governments.

Compare that situation to today.  Civil society groups are flowering and members are key advisors in governmental task forces and decision making.  Journalists no longer worry about abductions.  New hotels, businesses, and cafes are opening in Jaffna and elsewhere.  And the Sri Lanka parliament’s recent passage of the Office of Missing Persons bill is an important milestone to protecting the rights and interest of missing people and their families.

Operation Pacific Angel will work with the Sri Lankan Air Force in Jaffna to provide equipment and renovations requested by the local community.  This is just one of many visits and programs undertaken by the U.S. government as part of our commitment to walk by your side, strengthening relationships at all levels and with all of Sri Lanka’s diverse communities.  With the democratic transformation, widespread international support has come roaring back because we all share the same vision as the Sri Lankan people: that Sri Lanka can be a shining example for peace, reconciliation, democracy, and prosperity in an increasingly troubled world.