Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe today said American troops already are subjected to diplomatic immunity in Sri Lanka, as per the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the U.S. and Sri Lanka during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Presidency.
He said this today in Parliament, responding to a query raised by JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake about the three contentious agreements the government has entered or are planning to enter, with the U.S. – SOFA, ACSA (Acquisition and Across Service Agreement) and MCC (Millenium Challenge Corporation). What was meant to be a clarification process on SOFA has now been further complicated following PM’s speech.
PM told parliament that the SOFA was signed during CBK’s tenure and was implemented with effect from May 16, 1995. As per the conditions SL agreed to at the time, PM said American troops are currently subject to diplomatic immunity since then and our radio frequencies are also already accessible by U.S. forces if necessary.
The PM further assured no fresh SOFA agreement is in the offing between U.S. and Sri Lankan governments presently.
“What exists is the agreement made between the government of Sri Lanka and the U.S. and the Line Ministry stands accountable for it. So I inquired from my Secretary whether any proposal on SOFA has been submitted to the Cabinet. Such a proposal has not been submitted to the Cabinet by the Defense Ministry or any other Ministry and that has been communicated to me in writing. Therefore, rest assured we have not signed a new SOFA and a new agreement has not been submitted either,” he added.
The PM explained SOFA cannot be described purely as a mutual defense agreement between the two nations and is more of a framework under which U.S. military personnel can operate in a country. He added the U.S. has entered into similar agreements with various countries worldwide including South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia and added each draft is different to the other.
PM said the Opposition is trying to raise a spectre out of SOFA and added negotiations are underway between the relevant Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka on a new draft as certain conditions laid out in the new draft cannot be accepted by the GoSL.
“I can assure that we have not and will not commit to anything that negatively impacts the sovereignty or the autonomy of Sri Lanka,” he added.
The PM went on to note several revisions were also made in the renewed ACSA – mainly the points of contact for both U.S. and Sri Lanka.
“While we amalgamated the different points of contacts assigned to the tri-forces into a single contact point at the Defense Ministry, the U.S. increased their number of points of contact as the number of commanding posts have increased in number.”
“The ACSA signed by then Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had seven pages but the agreement we signed had only five. That shows the extent to which our government pushed back and stripped down in the agreement. I can’t understand how its possible for a five page document to be more dangerous than the seven-pager,” he added.
Responding to the PM’s statement Dissanayake said the yardstick with which to measure the negative impacts of an agreement with a foreign nation must not the number of pages in an agreement.