Relations with the United States

Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Ties with the United States in the late 1980s were based on a common democratic tradition, a mutual appreciation of the virtues of economic liberalization and market-oriented reforms, United States participation in major development projects such as the Accelerated Mahaweli Ganga Program, and seemingly convergent security interests in the Indian Ocean. The existence of a Voice of America relay facility on the island, used to transmit broadcasts within the South Asia region, was part of WashingtonColombo ties.

Large numbers of educated Sri Lankans, both Sinhalese and Tamil, lived in the United States, Britain, and Western Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. Overseas Tamils played a role in publicizing the plight of their countrymen in host country media and provided the militant movement with some financial support. An increasing number of Western countries expressed criticism of human rights violations by the government. For example, Norway halted all aid to Sri Lankan government bodies in June 1987 to protest abuses. The plight of Tamil refugees was highlighted in August 1986 when two lifeboats carrying 155 Sri Lankan Tamils were rescued off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. It appeared that the Tamils had fled West Germany after being denied refugee status by the Bonn government and had been cast adrift from a West German-owned freighter (the Canadian government gave them one-year work permits and promised to consider applications for refugee status). At the same time, the fund-raising activities of many sympathizers in the West, including refugees, were not entirely within legal bounds. In January 1986, the Swiss government arrested seventy Tamil refugees on charges of selling heroin.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress