Statement by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake at the Colombo Press Conference, Sep 14, 2011
It is a pleasure to be back in Sri Lanka and to see many old friends. Over the last two days I have had a wide range of meetings in Colombo and Jaffna.
In Colombo I met with President Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister GL Peiris, representatives of the TNA and UNP, and members of civil society.
I also visited Jaffna to meet with the military commander, NGO representatives, and students from Jaffna University. While in Jaffna I paid a visit to the offices of Uthayan to show America’s support of freedom of the press.
This is a very different country from when I left in May of 2009. Most of the IDPs have left Menik Farm and the rest will leave as soon as demining is complete; important local council elections have taken place in the north; more than 8,000 ex-combatants have been rehabilitated and released; and substantial work has been done in the North to re-open schools, improve infrastructure, and remove mines.
The United States is prioritizing our assistance plans to help the people of the North to recover, rebuild, and return to normal lives. We are investing $20 million to partner with the private sector to create 20,000 jobs in horticulture, dairy, apparel, aquaculture, logistics and construction sectors in the North and East. We are continuing activity to support demining so IDPs and others can return to their homes. We have contributed $1.4 million in the last year to support transitional housing across the North. In addition, we are the majority contributor to the World Food Program here, providing $5 million over the past 12 months.
Yet a great deal still needs to be done to heal the wounds of war and ensure a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Sri Lanka. I would point to three areas of particular priority.
First, I was very pleased to hear from both the government and the TNA that they will resume their important dialogue on devolution and other matters.
Secondly, the announcement that the U.N. Secretary General will transmit the Panel of Experts report to the UNHRC and the UNHCHR underlines the need for a comprehensive national reconciliation process that includes a full, credible and independent accounting of and accountability for those who violated international humanitarian law. We hope that the LLRC report will address the allegations raised in the Panel of Experts report.
Finally, I am concerned about human rights. A very important part of reconciliation and returning people’s lives to normal in the North is an improvement in human rights. I discussed with relevant officials the importance of disarming paramilitary groups, on which progress is being made. There is also a need to put an end to the grease devil incidents, which many people in Jaffna yesterday told me had given rise to new levels of insecurity. It is important to deploy Tamil police in the north so the military no longer needs to perform these functions. And the U.S. remains deeply concerned about attacks on journalists.
Thank you very much and I’d be glad to take your questions.