- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The United States accused Sri Lanka on Thursday of going back on its promises to protect human rights, and said the situation in the embattled island has deteriorated in the past year.

Visiting U.S. diplomat Richard Boucher said there was more bloodshed, and that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has failed to honor pledges to reduce violence since he took office in November 2005.

“People are more fearful and face more difficulties. Overall there has been a deterioration in Sri Lanka’s human rights record,” said Mr. Boucher when asked how he assessed the situation in Colombo since his last visit in October.

Mr. Boucher, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters here that he wants Colombo to deliver on the promises it made to the international community to reduce violence stemming from a bitter ethnic conflict with Tamil rebels.

“We are very concerned,” he said after his closed-door meeting with Mr. Rajapakse at the leader’s tightly guarded Temple Trees residence.

Mr. Boucher said he raised concerns with Mr. Rajapakse about the collapse of a truce with the rebels, attacks on media and the increase of extra-judicial killings that have claimed more than 4,800 lives since December 2005.

President Rajapakse’s office said Mr. Boucher was told that Colombo is “doing its best” to ensure there are no rights violations. The Sri Lankan president also told Mr. Boucher that he has sought the help of the international community to resolve the ethnic conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.

Mr. Boucher traveled Wednesday to the embattled Jaffna Peninsula, where 350,000 civilians and 40,000 government troops have lived under virtual siege conditions since the only land access was closed in August.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched an abortive assault on the peninsula on Aug. 11, prompting the military to close the main highway to the region.

Jaffna is now supplied through risky air and sea transport routes vulnerable to Tamil Tiger attack.

Despite government assurances of food and allowances of a limited amount of fishing in the area, Mr. Boucher said residents in Jaffna live in fear.

“Lots of people are worried about their security, afraid of the abductions and killings that are going on. Going forward, more needs to be done to create a climate where people can be safe,” he said.

Mr. Boucher’s dinner with key local personalities was cancelled because he had to leave before Sri Lanka’s international airportclosed for the night. The airport closure took effect Thursday amid fears of nocturnal air raids by Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Boucher’s concerns over human rights abuses were lauded by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Human Rights Watch welcomes Richard Boucher’s stated concern about human rights and, in particular, his visit to Jaffna, where he witnessed the peoples’ suffering first-hand,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

In March, Mr. Boucher’s deputy, Steven Mann, urged Sri Lanka to address human rights issues amid reports that more than 700 people had “disappeared” in the past year. More than 60,000 people have died in the 35-year ethnic conflict.

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