Reconcile with Tamils or risk terrorism - US

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 11 August 2009, 16:40 GMT]
The top US diplomat for South Asia says Sri Lanka's refusal to share power with the Tamils following the end of a bloody 25-year civil war in May could lead to renewed violence. US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake also said that Sri Lanka should allow more freedom of movement for the nearly 300,000 Tamils displaced by the war and confined to government camps. However, the hardline government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa questioned the US official’s right “to speak on behalf of the Tamils.” The US has been providing emergency assistance to the displaced, but longer term reconstruction assistance depends on Sri Lanka’s progress in resettlement, Mr. Blake said.

Robert O Blake
In an interview to the Associated Press Monday, Mr. Blake expressed disappointment that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has indicated he will not pursue political reconciliation until after presidential elections are held, probably in January.

“The government needs to find a way to move more quickly than January 2010,” Mr. Blake said from his office in the State Department.

“Because the risk, of course, is that people will become disaffected and that will give new impetus to terrorism.”

The US official, who recently completed a term as Ambassador to Sri Lanka said the Colombo government must make Tamils feel like they are part of the political process after the civil war.

Mr. Blake also said that Sri Lanka should allow more freedom of movement for the nearly 300,000 Tamils displaced by the war and confined to government camps. Some aid groups fear the camps are actually military-run internment centers designed to indefinitely hold the displaced.

Mr. Blake noted some progress on resettlement, including Sri Lanka allowing about 10,000 displaced people to leave the camps and its pledge to let another 40,000 leave this month and to have the majority released by the end of the year.

However, he said, the people in the camps were being “held against their will.”

“They're not allowed to leave,” Mr. Blake said. “It's important for them to have this freedom of movement.”

However, Sri Lanka’s government rejected Mr. Blake’s view, and questioned his right to speak for the Tamils, the Daily Mirror reported.

Government Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the Tamils were happy and that the people handling it knew this, not those speaking from outside the area of activity.

“|It is irrelevant, as it is the right of the Sri Lankan people to decide on what makes them happy as a nation” Rambukwella said. “I am sad to note that a senior diplomat of the calibre of Robert Blake would comment on this”

The United States said Monday that it was donating $15 million in food aid to help Sri Lanka resettle some of the Tamils displaced by the war. The USAID, U.S. Agency for International Development said the aid will provide those returning to their homes with a six-month ration of essential foods.

Commenting on that Mr. Blake said, Washington will not put conditions on humanitarian aid, but he said, "longer term reconstruction assistance really will be dependent on the progress that they make" on resettling displaced people and in power sharing efforts.

Last week, 26 containers of medical equipment and supplies donated by the US military’s Pacific Command for hospitals in the Sri Lanka’s north and valued at $1.6 million have cleared customs and were received by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health.

“According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed on July 10, 2009, by the two countries, the goods will be quickly transferred to hospitals in the Northern provinces to aid those still awaiting return to their homes,” the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.


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