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14 April 2024

US diplomats head to S Lanka for civil war talks


The United States said Monday it would send two senior diplomats to Sri Lanka this month, for talks expected to address alleged killings of civilians by troops during a war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, and Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs, will be in Colombo from February 12-14.

The trip is part of a regional tour for the pair -- Otero will head on to India and Nepal, while Blake will visit Bangladesh, the State Department said in a statement.

Among the issues to be discussed on the trip are "peace, accountability and reconciliation processes" -- which could dominate the talks in Sri Lanka with government officials and representatives of civil society.

The visit to Sri Lanka comes ahead of a United Nations human rights council meeting in Geneva, which starts later this month, where Washington hopes to move a resolution pressing Colombo to probe alleged war crimes.

"The US is mounting pressure on us this time, but we should be able to get over the difficulties because we have strong support from India," a government source in Colombo told AFP on Sunday.

Sri Lanka has managed to avoid censure at previous human rights council meetings thanks to the backing of Russia and China. India, the island's closest neighbor, has also backed Colombo.

Rights groups have said up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the government's military campaign to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels, which they completed in May, 2009.

Sri Lanka denies that a single civilian was killed by its troops.

However, a government-appointed panel, which probed the reasons behind the failure of a 2002 truce, reported in December that civilians may have died as a result of military action and called for an independent investigation.

The UN has estimated that up to 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka's bloody ethnic war between 1972 and 2009.