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Ex US Ambassador to Lanka seeks 'conditional' aid for island

The United States should work in "close coordination" with India on the Sri Lankan issue and impress upon international financial institutions to give "conditional" aid to the war ravaged country.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, Washington
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2009 01:11 PM IST

The United States should work in "close coordination" with India on the Sri Lankan issue and impress upon international financial institutions to give "conditional" aid to the war ravaged country, a former US Ambassador to Colombo has said.

"A powerful and united donors group could insist that development assistance will flow only if strict conditions are met," Jeffrey Lunstead, the former American Ambassador to Sri Lanka, said on Tuesday testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on South and Central Asian Affairs.

"These (conditions) could include genuine devolution of power, quick resettlement of displaced persons and a clear improvement in the human rights situation," Lunstead, who was the Ambassador to Sri Lanka from mid-2003 to mid-2006, said.

"The US should also seek close coordination with India, Sri Lanka's close and large neighbour. With its own large Tamil population, India has a significant stake in the outcome in Sri Lanka," he argued.

Responding to a question from Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lunstead said the United States as such does not has much leverage over the Sri Lankan Government.

"The US military relationship with Sri Lanka is almost nil, with military assistance terminated. US development assistance is relatively small," he said.

However, Sri Lanka will require massive assistance to rebuild war devastated areas and to meet its other development needs.

The US could join with other donors, both bilateral Japan, the EU, and others and multilateral, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, linking these financial assistance with improvement in humanitarian conditions in the country, specially in the north and devolution of power, he argued.

Expressing concern over humanitarian condition in Sri Lanka, he said the situation must be dealt with on an emergency basis. The Government has an obligation to protect its own citizens, he argued.

"It must do better at preventing collateral damage to civilians in its military campaign, and ensure that food and medical care reach them. Conditions in the camps are abysmal, and must be improved," he demanded.

Observing that Tamils have a real, and legitimate, fear that those taken off by Government forces will be abused and may never be seen again, Lunstead said, "The Government must also allow a competent outside agency, such as the ICRC, to be present when it screens those entering the camps, and to establish a record of those who are detained."

Lunstead defended Sri Lankan Tamils grievances and said these needs should be addressed by the Sri Lankan government.

"Sri Lanka's political system, which centralises power in Colombo, needs to be changed to devolve power to local areas," he said.

"This will allow Tamils and indeed all Sri Lankans to have a greater say in how they are governed and how they lead their lives," he said.

As Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse now enjoys great political support and is expected to gain even greater power if he calls an election, the former Ambassador said the Sri Lankan President now would have an opportunity to use this support to make the necessary Constitutional changes.

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