US envoy in Sri Lanka as UN rights meet starts
Colombo: US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake arrived in Colombo on Monday for talks that coincide with a UN meeting in Geneva that is set to discuss alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.
Blake, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia, would raise the allegations with all sides after the decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 with the government’s defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers, sources said.
“He will meet government officials, civil society representatives, university students and political leaders while in Sri Lanka,” the US State Department said in a statement.
Blake was scheduled to start his visit with meetings on Monday with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main political group representing the island’s Tamil minority.
The Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva September 12-30 is due to be opened by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka may be discussed during the session.
An Amnesty report last week cited eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers suggesting that at least 10,000 civilians were killed in the final military offensive that crushed the rebels in May 2009.
Amnesty accused the Sri Lankan Army of shelling areas it knew to be densely populated by civilians and also condemned the rebels for using non-combatants as a human shield.
An April report by a panel commissioned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted “credible allegations” of war crimes committed by both sides. Colombo has always denied all the allegations.
In past visits, Blake has urged President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government to set up a “credible” system to punish wartime rights violations in order to escape international censure.
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