US hopes for better relations with Sri Lanka

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s upcoming election is raising hopes in the United States for better relations after a chilly spell if the island turns the page on a bloody war that brought international opprobrium. The January 26 election comes months after troops killed the top leadership of the Tamil Tigers, ending their ruthless decades-long separatist campaign but also triggering accusations of human rights abuses.

Ironically, the post-war election could be decided by voters from the Tamil minority as the Sinhalese majority splits between two candidates — incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse, who ordered the final military push, and former general Sarath Fonseka, who executed it but more recently has pledged reconciliation.

Asked if the election could change relations with Washington, a senior US official said: “It already has changed the dynamic in a positive way.”

“A lot of the progress we’ve seen in the last two months or so is contributable at least in part to the election,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Sri Lanka has recently moved on key international concerns including releasing thousands of Tamil civilians who had been held for months in rudimentary displacement camps.