WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said Tuesday that future cooperation with Sri Lanka depended on improvements in its human rights record and an accounting of the bloodshed at the end of the island’s civil war.
With its strategic location and contributions to global peacekeeping, Sri Lanka “is poised to be a capable and willing partner to effectively combat violent extremism, trafficking and piracy,” said Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
“But the government’s worrying record on human rights, its weakening of democratic institutions and practices, and the way in which it conducted the final months of its conflict against the Tamil Tigers hamper our ability to fully engage,” Blake told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives.
“We continue to stress the importance of reconciliation and accountability for the future civility and prosperity of that country,” Blake said.
Sri Lanka’s relations with Western nations soured in 2009 when human rights groups accused the island’s military of abuses as it dealt a death blow to the Tamil Tiger leadership, ending a nearly four-decade separatist insurgency.
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The United Nations said that at least 7,000 civilians perished in the final months of fighting, while international rights groups have put the toll at more than 30,000.
The military has denied any civilian deaths. The Tamil Tigers were also widely criticized by human rights groups for the use of suicide bombings and child soldiers.
Blake, a former US ambassador to Colombo, warned in an interview with AFP a month ago that Sri Lanka would face pressure for an international investigation if it does not probe alleged abuses adequately on its own.
With support from Tamil American groups, US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama’s administration to support a UN-backed investigation, which Sri Lanka says is unnecessary.