The United States today called for paramilitary activity in the North to be controlled and for Tamil Policemen to be deployed to the North. The US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake also expressed his concern about Human Rights in the country.
“I am concerned about human rights. I discussed with relevant officials the importance of disarming paramilitary groups, on which progress is being made. It is important to deploy Tamil policeman in the north so the military no longer needs to perform these functions,” he said.
Blake specifically named the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) as having a strong paramilitary presence in the north. “Paramilitary groups are not allowed to carry weapons in public. While I was in Jaffna I myself, experienced the power of the EPDP who was able to prevent me from meeting with some university students,” he said.
The Assistant Secretary also stated that it had been conveyed to him that although the emergency regulations have been lifted it has had very little practical effect, due to the fact that the Public Securities Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorism Act were still in place.
Blake said the resumption of talks between the Tamil National Alliance and the government was encouraging and that he felt both sides were taking these discussions very seriously. “I was very pleased to hear from both the government and the TNA that they will resume their important dialogue on devolution and other matters,” he said. When questioned on the TNA’s negative outlook towards the discussions, the Assistant Secretary rejected any such aspersions. “I think there is a far more optimistic picture, both sides are taking the talks very seriously,” he said.
He further expressed that the 13th amendment was being expanded by both sides and was not a redundant mechanism. “I think that they are working towards expanding the amendment to deploy more powers to the provinces,” he said.
Speaking on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) he explained that it was premature to make any judgments on the commission before its report was released. “We have to wait and see what is in the report and the issues raised and thereafter make a judgment,” he said.
However Blake did not dispel the possibility of international pressure if the report by the commission was found to be inadequate. “We are not in the business of making threats to our friends. There is a need for a credible process of accountability for those who have violated international humanitarian law and there will be pressure for some mechanism to ensure that this takes place. However we hope that (such pressure) is not necessary,” he said.
Blake also stated that it was premature to call for the LLRC report to be presented at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in March next year. “This is dependent also on what the government of Sri Lanka wants to do with the report,” he said.
He also expressed the need for Sri Lanka to engage with the international community. “There is a need for Sri Lanka to engage positively with the United Nations. I know that there is also a delegation in Geneva at the moment and I hope they are able to brief the UNHRC of the work of the LLRC,” he said.
Blake also addressed the need to put an end to the grease devil incidents which had “given rise to new levels of insecurity” and expressed that the “US remains deeply concerned about attacks on journalists,” he said. (Dianne Silva)