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Sri Lanka reconciliation panel 'holds promise:' Clinton
29 May, 2010 08:38:51
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2010 (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday the Sri Lankan postwar reconciliation panel "holds promise" as she pressed for it to have enough powers to pursue claims of wartime atrocities.

"I think this commission holds promise and we hope and expect that it will fulfill that promise," Clinton said during a press briefing with new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris.

Peiris is on a visit to Washington to promote business opportunities in his country a year after troops of the Sinhalese-led government defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending a decades-old civil war.

He was named to the post earlier this month after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's party won parliamentary elections last month.

Rajapakse has come under fire at home and abroad for allegedly violating human rights in the final military campaign against the rebels and of suppressing dissent since his resounding re-election victory in January.

On May 5, the state-run Daily News newspaper reported that Colombo plans to set up a reconciliation commission to foster ethnic unity as the island emerges from nearly four decades of bloody conflict but gave few details.

Clinton listed a number of expectations the United States had for the reconciliation commission.

"We expect it will be given a broad enough mandate with the resources necessary to be able to follow the trail of any evidence" presented to it, the chief US diplomat said.

She said the United States expects the panel members "to work with the government so that the government will give due consideration to the recommendations" and to have the recommendations made public.

Clinton said its members and potential witnesses "must enjoy adequate and effective protection."

She said it is also important that the panel's members be perceived as "independent, impartial and competent," adding the minister assured her that its members would be.

"We expect this commission will reflect the desires and the needs of the citiziens of Sri Lanka," who were the main victims during the four-decade long civil war, she said.

The two also talked of the continuing role of the United Nations, which is to have an "independent, oversight role," she said.

Peiris confirmed that the panel members were independent and the panel was endowed with adequate powers, but he urged the international community to get off to a good start and work on the assumption that it will succeed.

"Our plea is that we be given the space to allow the commission to begin its work without impediment or without hindrance," the minister said.

"And certainly along the road, if you feel that there is a need for support, then we certainly will be happy to engage in a dialogue with the United Nations to get the benefit of the wisdom and the experience of the United Nations," he said.

Peiris also repeated pleas he made earlier in the week for US businesses to seize opportunities to help rebuild the nation's infrastructure.

Government troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year after killing the guerrilla leaders who were fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland.

The UN estimates that up to 100,000 people died in Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist conflict after the Tiger rebels first emerged in 1972.

The Sinhalese are the majority in Sri Lanka, with the Tamils representing the minority.

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