US urges Sri Lankan action on post-civil war reconciliation plan as top diplomats repair ties
WASHINGTON — The United States says Sri Lanka has presented a “serious and comprehensive” plan for reconciliation in the island nation after its quarter-century civil war.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Friday with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.M. Peiris, seeking to improve ties strained by American pressure for a probe into alleged war crimes.
The U.S. sponsored a resolution passed by the U.N. human rights council in March, urging Sri Lanka to probe reports of thousands of civilian deaths in the final months of the conflict that ended in 2009, when the ethnic Tamil rebels’ battle for an independent state was crushed by Sri Lanka’s military.
Clinton and other U.S. officials raised the issue Friday. It was not immediately clear how Sri Lanka responded, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Peiris presented a good plan on implementing the recommendations of its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission made in December.
The commission, launched in 2010, gathered evidence on the conflict from both sides, but it was criticized by human rights groups as failing to probe the war crimes allegations. The commission disputed an earlier U.N. report — which said Sri Lankan troops deliberately targeted civilians — but it did recommend that the government give more power to Tamils in areas where they are in the majority. Critics say the government has yet to act on those recommendations.
Clinton encouraged transparency both in implementing the plan and on probing the war crimes allegations, “to strengthen reconciliation, public confidence inside and outside Sri Lanka, and, frankly, to speed the healing of the country.”
She stressed the importance of demilitarizing former conflict zones in the north of Sri Lanka, holding provincial elections there and protecting human rights and promoting civil society.
Before the meeting, Peiris said Sri Lanka had completed 90 percent of the work in resettling the 300,000 people displaced by the conflict and had reintegrated hundreds of former child soldiers into society. He said the economy was growing rapidly in the north of the island and said this was fundamental for reconciliation.
Tamils have long been discriminated against by the majority ethnic Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Violence has not flared since the civil war ended three years ago. But Tamil activists say that Sri Lankan authorities have promoted Sinhalese settlements in predominantly Tamil areas and have disregarded all requests to share power.
Both Clinton and Peiris also spoke on the importance of U.S.-Sri Lankan relations. Peiris referred to excellent defense cooperation and the potential for stronger economic ties.
Nuland said the U.S. was encouraged by Sri Lankan efforts to reduce its dependence on crude oil from Iran.
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