US bemoans Sri Lanka inaction on camps, reconciliation

[TamilNet, Friday, 11 September 2009, 09:02 GMT]
The United States this week criticised the Sri Lankan government’s continued internment of hundreds of thousands of Tamils and Colombo’s not taking steps towards a political reconciliation. “President Rajapaksa did meet on Monday with representatives of the Tamil National Alliance, but in general there have been few other concrete steps to re-unite the country and begin to heal the wounds of a long war in such a way that all Sri Lankans feel they enjoy equal rights and opportunities,” US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said Wednesday.

Below are extracts relating to Sri Lanka of an address by Mr. Blake at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

“I would also like to touch on recent events in Sri Lanka, which I’m sure many of you have been following closely. The United States welcomed the cessation of fighting in Sri Lanka in May of this year and the apparent conclusion to the country’s long-running conflict. Since then, the United States has encouraged Sri Lanka to heal the wounds of conflict by ensuring that the estimated 300,000 people displaced by the civil war are treated according to international standards and allowed to return to their homes as quickly as possible, and by working toward justice and reconciliation in order to build a democratic, prosperous, tolerant and united Sri Lanka.

“With respect to the internally displaced persons still in the camps, the Government of Sri Lanka has made some progress easing camp congestion, and expanding access by humanitarian organizations, but we are concerned that those remaining in the camps still do not have freedom of movement. We have encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to follow through on its pledge to return a majority of IDPs by the end of the year. Already this year, the U.S. has provided $56 million in humanitarian assistance, mostly food aid. Other significant programs are aimed at helping the Sri Lankans accelerate the return and facilitate the resettlement of IDPs, such as $6.6 million to international NGOS for demining, and DOD-funded, USAID-administered projects for vulnerable communities and reintegration of former combatants.

“The Government of Sri Lanka has made only very modest progress on political reconciliation with Tamils and Muslims. To his credit, President Rajapaksa did meet on Monday with representatives of the Tamil National Alliance, but in general there have been few other concrete steps to re-unite the country and begin to heal the wounds of a long war in such a way that all Sri Lankans feel they enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

“We have stressed to the Government of Sri Lanka that to achieve a lasting peace, it must promote justice and political reconciliation for all parties, including by ensuring accountability for past violations of human rights. We are also concerned about threats to press freedom in Sri Lanka, including the recent conviction of Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on terrorism charges. A successful, united post-war Sri Lanka is not possible without freedom of expression.”

 

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