August 26, 2015 / 9:25 AM / 2 years ago

U.S. sees new chance for Sri Lanka reconciliation after civil war

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday it saw a new opportunity for reconciliation in Sri Lanka and a coming to terms with the legacy of 26 years of civil war.

Nisha Biswal (R), U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, speaks to media next to Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera during their meeting in Colombo August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lankan forces battled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a war that the government won in 2009. The UN estimates the final offensive ordered by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa killed around 40,000 Tamil civilians.

In its third consecutive resolution moved in March 2014, the United States pushed for an international war crimes investigation. But Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, said on Wednesday that the U.S. would support a domestic process if it was credible.

Washington will move a new resolution, to address responsibility for abuses and propose a framework for reconciliation, at next month’s U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

“We have recognized that there is a different opportunity that exists today and a different landscape for trying to advance reconciliation,” Nisha Biswal, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, told reporters in Colombo. “We look forward to a process in Geneva that allows an opportunity to reflect on that.”

Biswal said the thrust of the resolution would be decided after reviewing the findings of a UN investigation into alleged war crimes.

Rajapaksa lost a presidential election in January and failed in his bid to come back as prime minister in the Aug. 17 polls.

The election strengthened President Maithripala Sirisena, a reformist leader who has taken steps to reconcile Sri Lankan Tamils with majority Sinhala speakers, many of whom still regard Rajapaksa as a national hero.

M.A. Sumanthiran, a legislator for the Tamil National Alliance, said the visiting U.S. officials had told the party the resolution should implement the recommendations made in the UN report.

“We welcome a new U.S. resolution. But we want to see international standards in the implementation of those recommendations,” Sumanthiran told Reuters. “If there are prosecutions, we want to see them internationalized.”

Rajitha Senaratne, a lawmaker for the ruling United National Party, said the U.S. move was positive because it accepted a credible domestic mechanism.

“This shows the result of good governance and the president’s genuine efforts for reconciliation.”

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Nick Macfie

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