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US urges Sri Lanka to boost Tamil police

[AFP, Thursday, 15 September 2011 08:33 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (L) shakes hands with US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake (R) in Colombo (AFP Presidential Office) The United States on Wednesday urged Sri Lanka to deploy more minority Tamils to police the former conflict zone in the island’s north to help "heal the wounds of war".

Tamils in the formerly embattled region feel intimidated by the presence of predominantly Sinhalese-speaking government forces and police, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said at the end of a three-day official visit.

"It is important to deploy Tamil police in the north so that the military no longer needs to perform these functions," Blake told reporters in Colombo.

"Having Tamil police is good to improve community policing. It raises the level of trust," added Blake, who previously served as ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Blake also called on the government to disarm Tamil-speaking paramilitary groups which supported the Sinhalese majority during the conflict and since its end have allegedly been terrorising the local Tamil population.

During meetings with President Mahinda Rajapakse and other senior government officials, Blake said it was important to address Tamil grievances which led to the 37-year conflict with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sri Lanka’s military forces defeated the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in May 2009 after decades of warfare but relations between the country’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil-speaking minority remain deeply strained.

Though a lot of post-conflict rebuilding work is in progress, Blake said a great deal needs to be done "to heal the wounds of war and ensure a democratic and prosperous Sri Lanka".

He added that the United States remained "deeply concerned" about continued attacks on Sri Lanka’s media.

On Tuesday, Blake visited the Uthayan newspaper in northern Jaffna, whose news editor was severely beaten up by unidentified men recently.

In the past decade 17 journalists and media employees have been killed in Sri Lanka, with none of the murders being solved, according to rights groups.

"A very important part of reconciliation and returning to people’s lives to normal in the north is an improvement in human rights," Blake said.

Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka came as pressure mounted at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes during the conflict.

On Monday the UN Human Rights Council received a report from UN chief Ban Ki-moon that accused Sri Lankan troops of killing thousands of civilians in bombing attacks.

UN chief Ban has said he cannot order an international inquiry into the alleged killings — which the Sri Lankan government has strongly denied — but that a forum such as the Human Rights Council could do so.

Ban’s sharing of the report with the UN Human Rights Council, Blake said, underlined the need for a "comprehensive national reconciliation process."

[Full Coverage]

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