U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher yesterday delivered a strong message to the Sri Lankan government to reign in paramilitaries, improve human rights and ensure press freedom.
Speaking to the media at the conclusion of his visit to the island, Mr. Boucher, who earlier in the day met President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said the US was concerned at the way things were developing in Sri Lanka.
Richard Boucher said he has had frequent meetings with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top officials and discussed the situation in Sri Lanka and it economical impact resulting from cancellation of tourist arrivals, flights and aid. He also noted that as a result of the volatile security situation in the country some of its projects under the Millennium Goals programme had not progressed to the desired levels.
Ambassadors representing the co-chairs met in Colombo yesterday in the presence of Mr. Boucher and compared notes over the situation in Sri Lanka, Mr. Boucher said.
`We are watching the situation closely. We have seen reports of government power being used on the media. We will always speak out in defense of the media,` Mr. Boucher added.
The Assistant Secretary of State said a lot remained to be done although during his meetings with the government he had received commitments to hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable.
`The question is how well it`s being carried out,` Mr. Boucher noted.
The US envoy asserted that paramilitaries were responsible for most of the human rights violations including abductions, disappearances and killings and impressed on the government to reign in the armed groups.
`We discussed the need to do that and how that can be done. I hope to see progress in that front,` Mr. Boucher added.
Asked if it is likely the Karuna faction will end up being listed as a terrorist outfit by the US State Department, he said any group which consistently engaged in terrorist acts would be closely monitored but it was too early to say if the Karuna faction would be listed as such or not.
Mr. Boucher, who on Wednesday visited Jaffna, said people in the peninsula were living in fear as a result of the spate of killings, intimidation and abductions in the area. `A lot of people are very worried.`
The US envoy also slammed the LTTE and said the international community would offer assistance to the Sri Lankan government to face the threat of terrorism. `We are opposed to terrorism and we stand with the people of Sri Lanka against terrorism.`
He added that he was looking forward to the political parties in the country reaching a consensus through the APRC which could ultimately be the basis for the resumption of peace negotiations.
`Politics should not enter the picture,` Mr. Boucher asserted.
Meanwhile a statement from the President`s office said during yesterday`s meeting with the U.S. envoy, President Rajapaksa had stressed the need to be vigilant about the national security of Sri Lanka and called for international help to solve the ravaging ethnic conflict.
`President Mahinda Rajapaksa who explained the prevailing security situation stressed on the need to be vigilant in the interests of national security,` the statement said. `The President has sought international help to end the violence in Sri Lanka,` it added.
Mr. Boucher who arrived in the island on Tuesday on a three day official visit also met Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at the Defence Ministry and held discussions.