Sri Lanka

U.S. to tell Sri Lanka: rein in paramilitaries

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COLOMBO, May 8 (Reuters) - A top U.S. State Department official begins a visit to war-torn Sri Lanka on Tuesday, and is expected to give the government a blunt message: address any rights abuses by the security forces and rein in paramilitaries.

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, warned the government and Tamil Tigers on a previous trip in November that there was no military solution to the island's two-decade civil war, but both sides ignored him and fighting continues to deepen.

His visit follows Britain's decision last week to suspend around $3 million in debt relief aid, citing concerns about human rights abuses and mushrooming defence spending, a move Sri Lanka's foreign minister dismissed on Monday as insignificant.

"He's likely to tell the Sri Lankan government that they are responsible for law and order in areas under their control and that they should make changes to address accountability in the security forces," said one foreign diplomat on condition of anonymity.

"The international community believes the Karuna group in the east must be reined in," the diplomat added, referring to a band of former rebels who analysts say are helping the government to wage war against their former Tiger comrades.

Government officials now refer to the group's leader, Colonel Karuna, renowned as a ruthless top former Tiger commander, as a political dissident and even tout him as a candidate to run an eventual new civil administration in the east.

Nordic truce monitors and a UN envoy have accused elements of the military of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions of children to fight in the ranks of the Karuna group. The international community has called on Colombo to bring a halt to rights abuses.

Boucher is due to meet civic and community leaders during this three-day stay, and to visit the besieged army-controlled northern Jaffna peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of the island by rebel lines, on Wednesday.

However Boucher's visit comes amid near-daily land and sea clashes between the military and Tigers, and a day after the air force said it had bombed a rebel training camp near their northern stronghold, which is southwest of Jaffna.

His arrival also follows a government minister's comment on Monday that Sri Lanka wanted peace broker Norway to review whether to scrap a tattered 2002 ceasefire pact which has broken down on the ground and now holds only on paper.

The Tigers have vowed to intensify their fight for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, and the military pledge to wipe out all rebel military assets -- a cocktail analysts say means a war that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 is set to escalate.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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