US backs Sri Lanka's plan for local inquiry of wartime atrocities

  • AFP, Colombo
  • Updated: Aug 26, 2015 21:45 IST
Nisha Biswal (R), U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, speaks to media next to Sri Lanka's minister of foreign affairs Mangala Samaraweera during their meeting in Colombo (Reuters Photo)

The United States on Wednesday said it backed the new Sri Lankan government's plans for a local inquiry into alleged wartime atrocities, reversing its demand for an international probe.

Assistant secretary of state Nisha Biswal said the US wants to sponsor a resolution at next month's UN human rights session backing Colombo's plans, signalling a major shift by Washington on the South Asian nation.

"We support efforts to create a credible domestic process for accountability and reconciliation," Biswal told reporters in Colombo after talks with the new government.

"The failure of past efforts is very much on our minds, but that is why you have to emphasise on building trust."

The US has led efforts at the UN Human Rights council for three resolutions against Sri Lanka, with the last one calling for an international probe into the alleged abuses.

But Biswal said there was new optimism for reconciliation over Sri Lanka's wartime past, after President Maithripala Sirisena ousted longtime strongman Mahinda Rajapakse at elections in January.

Washington had an uneasy relationship with Rajapakse, who staunchly defied Western pressure to investigate allegations of atrocities.

Rajapakse had insisted that not a single civilian was killed by troops under his command during the decades-long conflict.
The UN estimated that at least 40,000 ethnic minority Tamil civilians perished in the final months of fighting between troops and Tamil rebels
that ended in 2009.

Assistant secretary of state for human rights Tom Malinowski said the US would move a new resolution on Sri Lanka as a "collaborative effort" with Colombo next month in Geneva.

The resolution is likely to follow the release of a report by the UN Human Rights Council next month into allegations of wartime crimes.
Since coming to power in January, Sirisena has vowed to pursue reconciliation efforts with Tamils and said he is ready to work with the international community on an investigation.

Rajapakse failed in a bid to make a political comeback as premier at this month's general election, as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, backed by Sirisena, was returned to power.

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