US envoy visits Sri Lanka's former war zone

AFP , Tuesday 13 Sep 2011

US Assistant Secretary of State tours former war zone of northern Jaffna region in Sri Lanka as international pressure on the UN human rights council continues

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake toured Sri Lanka's former war zone on Tuesday to meet students, community leaders and government officials two years after the island's civil war ended.

Blake, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia, was in the northern Jaffna region to see development work since the fighting ceased, a US embassy spokesman said without giving further details.

His visit to Sri Lanka comes as pressure grows at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes committed during the conflict.

Blake, who has also served as an ambassador to Sri Lanka, met with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse for talks on Monday in the capital Colombo.

The military's defeat of the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 after decades of warfare has attracted accusations that both sides were guilty of atrocities in the final months of combat.

The UN Human Rights Council on Monday received a previously-released report from UN chief Ban Ki-moon that accused Sri Lankan troops of killing thousands of civilians in bombing attacks.

UN chief Ban has said that he alone cannot order an international inquiry into the alleged killings -- which the Sri Lankan government has strongly denied -- but that a forum such as the Human Rights Council could do so.

Hospitals, UN centres and Red Cross ships were deliberately shelled by government forces, the UN report said, adding that prisoners were also shot in the head and women raped during the 2009 offensive.

It said rebel leaders used 330,000 civilians as a human shield and deliberately shot those who tried to escape.

The Sri Lanka government has rejected calls for an UN-led probe into the claims, saying the island needed to concentrate on rebuilding after the war.

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