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US unhappy over Sri Lanka's 'modest' progress in settling Tamils

By Aziz Haniffa
September 10, 2009 13:11 IST
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The United States government has expressed its dissatisfaction over the progress made by Sri Lanka in rehabilitating the three lakh war-hit Sri Lankan Tamils living in detainee camps and in regard to reconciliation with the political parties of Tamils and Muslims in the country.


Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake was outlining the government's policy on South Asia at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies at Maryland, US.


"The government of Sri Lanka has made some progress easing camp congestion and expanding access by humanitarian organisations. But we are concerned that those remaining in the camps still do not have freedom of movement," Blake said on Wednesday.


He added that these internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka were living in "atrocious conditions".


"The government of Sri Lanka has made only very modest progress on political reconciliation with Tamils and Muslims," he said but noted that "President Rajapakse did meet on Monday (September 7) with the representatives of the Tamil National Alliance".


The former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka also expressed his concerns over the lack of freedom for expression in the war-torn country in connection with the recent arrest of a Tamil journalist.


He expressed deep concern over "threat to freedom for the press 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," he warned.


Blake said the US had "welcomed the cessation of fighting in Sri Lanka in May and the apparent conclusion to the country's long-running conflict," when the country's military decimated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.


"Since then, the United States has encouraged Sri Lanka to heal the wounds of conflict by ensuring that the estimated three lakh people displaced by the civil war are treated according to international standards and are allowed to return to their homes as quickly as possible, and by working towards justice and reconciliation in order to build a democratic, prosperous, tolerant and united Sri Lanka," he said.


He said Washington had urged Colombo "to follow through on its pledge to return a majority of IDPs by the end of the year", and pointed out that "the US has provided $56 million in humanitarian assistance, mostly food aid, this year" and that other "significant programmes are aimed at helping the Sri Lankans accelerate the return and resettlement of IDPs".


Blake said this included a $ 6.6-million aid to international non-governmental organisations, and Pentagon-funded, US Agency for International Development-administered projects "for vulnerable communities and reintegration of former combatants".


But apart from this, Blake said, "There have been few other concrete steps to re-unite the country and to begin healing of wounds caused by a long war in such a way that all Sri Lankans feel they enjoy equal rights and opportunities."


He said the US had "stressed to the government of Sri Lanka that to achieve a lasting peace, it must promote justice and political reconciliation for all parties, and also ensure accountability for past violations of human rights".
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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC