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U.S. says more hard work ahead in post-war Sri Lanka

[Reuters, Wednesday, 9 December 2009 15:49 No Comment]

Sri Lanka has made good progress in its post-war efforts at resettling people, but hard work remains on press freedom and human rights, the top U.S. envoy for south Asia said on Tuesday.

Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake is on a three-day trip to the Indian Ocean island nation to discuss political matters and reconciliation after the end of a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May.

"The United States welcomes the recent progress by the government of Sri Lanka," Blake said, referring to the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees from camps that drew international condemnation because people were not free to leave.

"Everyone agrees that there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done," Blake told a press conference. "Killings and abductions have come down. That is certainly welcome. We still need progress on press freedom and … political reconciliation."

Blake’s visit comes after the U.S. Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee urged President Barack Obama not to "lose" its relationship with the strategically located island nation as China and India have gained increasing sway.

The report urges Obama’s administration to recalibrate its approach to post-war Sri Lanka to include more economic, political and security aid to protect U.S. interests and offer incentives for Sri Lanka to improve its rights record.

Blake, who was the ambassador in Colombo until May, said he was not aware of the report’s recommendations, which was issued as the Obama administration is reviewing its Sri Lanka policy.

Sri Lanka’s government was furious that instead of praising its victory, the United States and other Western nations roundly criticized it over human rights, the plight of refugees and civilian casualties at the end of the war.

Blake denied that Washington had been too aggressive toward Sri Lanka after the war, as the Senate report had indicated.

"I wouldn’t say we’ve taken a confrontational attitude against Sri Lanka. We’ve had a longstanding friendship with Sri Lanka that goes back many, many years," Blake said.

Blake said he hoped for further progress on political reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s main ethnic groups and on human rights and accountability.

Rights groups and Western governments are pressing for some kind of accountability for thousands of civilian deaths at the end of the war and rights abuses blamed on state agencies including the abductions and killings of journalists.

[Full Coverage]

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