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US concerned at Lanka's abuses, halts aid

world Updated: May 11, 2007 13:13 IST
Simon Gardner
Simon Gardner
Reuters
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The United States has halted some aid to Sri Lanka as human rights abuses rise amid renewed civil war, a top US State Department official said on Thursday.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to the island, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said Washington was concerned by a spate of abductions and killings blamed on each side during the two-decade conflict.

"There's a deterioration of human rights on the island," Boucher told a media briefing a day after he visited an army-held enclave in the island's war-torn north.

"There are two aspects that concern us most, one is abductions and killings, and the second is freedom of the press."

Nordic truce monitors and a UN envoy have accused elements of the military of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions of children as fighters for a breakaway rebel faction, which analysts say is aligned to the government.

The Tigers have long been accused of serial abductions and are listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States, Britain and the European Union among others.

"There's a responsibility not just to deal with the behaviour of people in government employment, in official circles, in the security forces, but also to have government get control of the paramilitaries so the people can live more safely," Boucher said.

His visit comes at a time of heightened conflict between the the military and Tigers. Their protracted conflict has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.

It also comes after Britain last week suspended around $3 million dollars in debt relief aid, citing concerns about human rights abuses and mushrooming defence spending.

"We also carefully evaluate programmes," Boucher said. "We're comfortable that we have a great many programmes here that support the people of Sri Lanka, that help displaced people."

"There's one programme in the planning process from the Millennium Challenge Corporation ... that hasn't been proceeding forward because there are concerns in that area, about the ability to carry out the project given the security situation and the human rights situation."

The Tigers have vowed to intensify their fight for an independent state in the north and east, while the government has pledged to wipe out all rebel military assets.

Many investors are jittery amid fears the war will escalate.

"Growth is still steady, but if you look at it, you have problems of cancelled tourists, cancelled flights, suspended aid programmes. This is not good for the future," Boucher said.