US envoy to visit Sri Lanka

WASHINGTON, December 4, 2009 (AFP) – A senior US envoy will head to Sri Lanka next week to encourage post-war reconciliation, days after the island nation allowed Tamil civilians to leave detention camps, officials said Friday. Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, will visit Sri Lanka on Monday and Tuesday in the highest-ranking US trip to the island nation since it ended a 37-year guerrilla war in May, the State Department said.

Blake, formerly the ambassador to Colombo, will meet with “government officials, political leaders and civil society,” it added in a statement.

Sri Lanka’s relations with the United States and other Western nations soured earlier this year as troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, who waged a bloody campaign for a separate homeland.

Western powers and the United Nations had voiced concern about the safety of non-combatants in the final offensive and were alarmed when Sri Lanka later detained tens of thousands of civilians, arguing it was weeding out rebels.

Sri Lanka opened the gates Tuesday as part of a plan to close down the widely-condemned displacement camps by the end of January. But many civilians have stayed put because their villages were destroyed