The government has not signed any Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with United States other than the letters earlier exchanged in 1995 between the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday. He said the US government has made several proposals and the government has not yet agreed and still their (proposals) are to be considered. The Premier however assured that not a single agreement that would affect the country’s sovereignty would be entered into.
He made these observations yesterday in response to a query made by JVP Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake during the round of questions from the Prime Minister. SLPP MP Bandula Gunawardena also was scheduled to make a query on agreements with the US government and had notified the question as well but he was not present during the round of questions. The Premier spoke on SOFA agreement, Millennium Challenge Agreements and Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) as well.
The Premier further said that some media had misleadingly reported that a SOFA agreement has been signed in 2017. He added that had such an agreement been signed in 2017, it would be illegal and fake. He challenged the news media making these claims to give him a copy so that he could go to the Police against the wrong doers.
Premier Wickremesinghe tabled copies of the letters exchanged in 1995 and the ACSA agreement entered into during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime for perusal by the House. He added that during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had again renewed the content of the documents in 2007 as those agreements expire after 10 years. He added that the same agreement was renewed on August 4 in 2017.The Premier said the same agreement in 1995 was not a mutual defence agreement but it generally establishes the framework under which US military personnel operate in a foreign country.
The Premier pointed out that the letters exchanged again between former Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the US Embassy comprised seven pages while the renewed document in 2017 comprised only five pages. He queried as to how a five page agreement could have more effect than that with seven pages. The Premier also said that the Foreign Affairs Minister went to the United States not to enter into a SOFA agreement with the US government but to discuss all the agreements between the two countries which was a routine process every two years.
The Premier also said that during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) had been signed with the US. He noted that under this agreement the US forces who serve in Sri Lanka and the civil employees of the US Defence Ministry too enjoy diplomatic privileges.He also said that the in the agreement between late President J. R. Jayawardene and late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi it was agreed that the Trincomalee harbour or any other harbour would not be available for military use to any foreign military in a prejudicial manner to India. Hence the harbours are not available for USA, China or England or any other country, but they can come on visits.
The Premier also said that none in the Opposition questioned when these agreements were entered into or renewed by them during the previous regimes. He said that there is a discussion between the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the US Embassy in Sri Lanka on their proposals. He added that he too has issues with some proposals and he had conveyed his opinion to them.
He added that the Government has the responsibility to ensure the security for sea routes in the Indian Ocean too. He assured the House that when the discussions were complete and if the Cabinet approved it, the same documents would be presented to Parliament for approval.Premier explained that Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement was solely for the funding of infrastructure facilities in the country.