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US calls for probe on rights abuses in Sri Lanka

[AP, Thursday, 22 July 2010 07:17 No Comment]

A top U.S. diplomat urged Sri Lanka on Wednesday to investigate allegations of war crimes during its civil war and to resettle tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Tamils as a means of reconciliation.

The United States also backs the United Nations’ look into possible war crimes as Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war was ending last year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake told reporters.

Sri Lanka opposes the advisory panel formed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as infringing on its national sovereignty and has vowed not to give the panel members visas to enter the country.

"Sri Lanka has a unique opportunity to forge a lasting peace and prosperity after decades of war," Blake said. He added that keys to reconciliation are resettling the displaced, assuring accountability to redress past wrong, freeing institutions like police, judiciary, elections commission and public service from political interference and ensuring media freedom.

Blake, who is on a visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, spoke amid increasing international criticism of the Sri Lankan government over human rights.

The European Union last month decided to scrap a preferential trade scheme for Sri Lanka unless the country commits to the protection of human rights. Sri Lanka has rejected the E.U. conditions.

Blake said the U.N. panel Ban appointed would only help Sri Lanka’s own investigations. Sri Lanka has appointed its own reconciliation commission, but that body is not expected to look into the war crimes allegations.

Human rights groups have accused the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels of deliberately targeting civilians and according to U.N. documents at least 7,000 people were killed in the last five months of the fighting alone.

Government troops crushed the rebels last year, ending their campaign for an independent state for the Tamil minority. More than 80,000 people were killed in the quarter-century war.

Opponents of the panel are concerned its work could eventually be the basis of war crimes charges against Sri Lankan leaders whom the population regard as heroes for defeating the rebels. A protest led by a government minister in the capital earlier this month blocked U.N. workers from leaving their office building for several hours.

But Blake said the panel will not have investigative powers.

[Full Coverage]

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