By Rose Kenny
Although the Opposition MPs criticize the government for signing agreements with the US, they fail to realize that their presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa was himself a US citizen when he signed the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday.
Speaking during the adjournment debate moved by the United People’s Freedom Alliance on obtaining Parliamentary agreements entered into by the Government with foreign countries, Kiriella queried whether any Opposition MPs accusing the Government of betraying the country, raised these issue when the ACSA agreement was signed by the then Defence Secretary and presented to Parliament in 2007.
Kiriella also claimed that the proposed Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement has so far only amounted to letters being exchanged. “The agreement was initiated by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. These were done by your Governments. We are bound to implement those agreements signed by previous Governments. We will send all the drafts to the Attorney General. They will ensure that there’s nothing in them that are harmful to the country’s sovereignty. We will only sign them after obtaining the approval of the Attorney General,” he added.
The Minister noted that most Opposition MPs who are critical of the US were themselves educated in the US while their children are also being educated there.
The US gave Sri Lanka the fullest cooperation during the war under these same agreements, Kiriella added. He further noted that the US is Sri Lanka’s biggest trading partner, purchasing USD11 million worth of goods every year.
Reading from a document sent by the Foreign Ministry, he noted that a SOFA does not constitute a security arrangement with a particular country. It seeks to establish the rights and privileges of US personnel in a country and address issues such as wearing of uniforms, exemption from taxes and fees, carrying of weapons, use of radio frequencies, licenses and exemption from criminal jurisdictions of the host country. The US has so far signed such agreements with over 100 countries, he stated.
However, Kiriella told Parliament that when Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana was in the US conducting negotiations on extending the SOFA, he had insisted that any US citizen suspected of an an offense committed in this country will be subjected to Sri Lankan jurisdiction.