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US envoy heads to Sri Lanka amid war flap

[AFP, Sunday, 1 May 2011 09:57 No Comment]

A US envoy heads to Sri Lanka next week to encourage a full accounting over its civil war after the government angrily rejected UN-backed allegations of atrocities, officials said Friday.

Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state handling South Asia, will leave Saturday on a six-day trip to Sri Lanka and Maldives for talks with political leaders and civil society, the State Department said.

A US official said Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka had originally been planned a month ago and was not linked to the war panel report released Monday but that it was certain to come up in conversation.

The report commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found "credible allegations" that both the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels had been involved in what could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The United Nations has estimated that tens of thousands of people died in the 2009 offensive, in which the government killed the top leadership of the Tamil Tigers and ended their nearly 40-year separatist insurgency.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris, meeting with diplomats on Thursday, denounced the report as "legally, morally and substantively flawed," and accused the United Nations of trying to destabilize the island.

But the United States has welcomed the report, with US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice calling for "an independent and full accounting of the facts."

Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States planned a "candid dialogue" with Sri Lanka and other countries to seek accountability over the civil war.

"We strongly support the secretary-general’s call for Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively to the report," the official said.

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