Monday, June 14, 2010

The United States and India have similar views of Sri Lanka- Robert O. Blake

The United States and India have similar views of Sri Lanka situation and the steps that need to be taken, according to a high ranking US official.

In an interview with India's Rediff website, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake has said that the US and India are in agreement with their foreign policy toward Sri Lanka, especially on the resettlement of the remaining 40,000 plus internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The former US Ambassador to Colombo said that the US worked closely with India for the last several years on Sri Lanka's situation.

"We have worked very closely throughout the last several years on the situation in Sri Lanka, and again we have a real convergence of view on how that situation has evolved," Rediff quoted Assistant Secretary Blake.

Blake has noted that the United States has been the largest donor of food aid to the IDPs and said now they are focusing on other programs to help restore the livelihoods of the resettled by encouraging new business development in the war-torn northern region.

The US would coordinate closely with India to resettle the remaining IDPs and to ensure devolution of power in the north and greater respect for the rights of all Sri Lankans, Blake has told Rediff.

Noting that the recent meeting between Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was "very successful" Blake has said that the US had welcomed the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government including the forming of a Reconciliation Commission.

According to Blake, US has asked Sri Lanka to also work with the UN since the UN had a "great deal of experience in these matters."

Blake has said that the US was pleased to learn from Minister Peiris that the Reconciliation Commission Sri Lanka has established will meet the criteria that US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice laid out.

The Assistant Secretary has dismissed the criticism by certain human rights groups that the Commission is a sham saying that although it's a government appointed commission, it has independent experts on the commission.

"Not everybody on the Commission is a government employee. In fact, very few of them are," Blake has said.

The US official stressed that a home-based inquiry is the best for the country.

"We always believe that it's best to have domestic answers to these very serious problems that exist because those in the long run -- if they are credible and independent and really get to the bottom of whatever the issue is -- will be much more acceptable domestically and that's particularly true in a country like Sri Lanka, where there is still some polarisation," Blake was quoted.

The Assistant Secretary has stressed that the Commission must "produce concrete, serious results" to be credible and to ward off the criticism by groups like International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch.

In response to the interviewer's question on Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's recent comment to the BBC on hanging former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka for betraying the country by his remarks, Blake has replied cautiously saying that the US has expressed its interest in ensuring that General Fonseka is treated fairly and in accordance with Sri Lankan law.

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