Envoy tells government officials accountability for alleged war crimes should be top priority.
A senior US offical has called on the Sri Lankan government to follow up on the findings of a UN report, by bringing to justice those who committed war crimes during the civil war.
Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said accountability for alleged war crimes was as important as dealing with the political issues which remain unsettled after the government defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The solution to achieving a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka is not just about accountability,” Blake, who served as US ambassador to Sri Lanka at the end of its quarter-century civil war in May 2009, said on Wednesday in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.
“It’s a much wider series of things that have to be addressed, and I think the government is addressing them.”
The Indian Ocean nation is facing increased pressure from the West to probe allegations of war crimes and humanitarian law violations at the end of its war with Tamil Tigers, who were seeking a separate homeland in the country’s north-east.
A UN-sponsored report says there is “credible evidence” that tens of thousands of civilians died in the last months of the war that began in 1983 after decades of ethnopolitical tension between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, sent the report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.
Sri Lanka has been on a diplomatic offensive to try to dispel the allegations, which it has long said are biased, exaggerated and fronted by Tamil Tiger supporters.
The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) it set up after the war is due to present its findings on the war’s last months to Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president, in November.
“We hope that will be a credible process. If it is not a credible process, there will be pressure for some kind of an alternative mechanism,” Blake told a news conference at the end of a three-day trip to Sri Lanka.
He praised the government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party for agreeing to resume talks on a post-war political settlement this week, which stalled when the TNA pulled out over what it called government foot-dragging.
“I did detect an element of sincerity there, and I hope that they (both sides) will follow through and that both sides will engage to produce that outcome,” Blake said.
Tamil parties want a greater devolution of powers to the former war zone in the north and east, which the Tamil Tigers fought to turn into a Tamil-only state.
Those include greater financial, land and police powers at a provincial level.