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Much to be done says US ambassador after visit to Jaffna

Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, US Ambasador Atul Keshap and Minister of National Coexistence Dialogue Mano Ganesan as they arrived in Jaffna on a USAF aircraft.

The US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap, stressed that much remained to be done in order to ensure the implementation of the UN Human Rights council resolution on accountability and reconciliation, as he marked a historic trip to Jaffna this week.

In eight months, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will report on the Government of Sri Lanka’s progress toward implementing its reconciliation and accountability promises made in Geneva last year,” said the ambassador.

“We support the government’s efforts to meet its commitments made in Geneva.  And we will help.”

“This will be difficult but it is necessary, and it is for the good of all Sri Lankans and for the happiness of all of her people,” he added. 

Mr Keshap was accompanied by the US Pacific Command’s Operation Pacific Angel (PACANGEL), as he met with Tamil politicians and civil society leaders.

The ambassador flew to Jaffna on a US Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which landed at Palali Airport. He was accompanied by Minister of National Coexistence Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan and Chief Minister of the Northern Province C V Wigneswaran.

The ambassador went on to recall his several visits to the region and how he has “heard the painful memories of how the people of the Northern Province suffered so greatly during the many years of war”. “While truth telling, reconciliation, and accountability are essential, these will not bring back the lives lost and lives destroyed,” he said.

Noting the UN resolution, which was co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka, Mr Keshap outlined pledges that Colombo has committed to, including the return of land to displaced Tamils, judicial mechanisms to investigate war crimes, the charge or release of remaining “security-related detainees” and the end of discrimination.

 

Welcome @PACAF to #Jaffna to begin week-long assistance program for local community #PACANGEL pic.twitter.com/BlSbCZNXCr

— U.S. Embassy Colombo (@USEmbSL) August 15, 2016

 Video of the US Air Force arriving in Jaffna.

Taking the lead on Geneva
A key point that the ambassador said Sri Lanka had committed to was the replacement of the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Under this piece of legislature, Tamils across the island have been held indefinitely without charge and continue to face arrest.

The issue of repealing the PTA was reiterated by members of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), who Mr Keshap held a meeting with on Monday afternoon. C V K Sivagnanam, Chairman of the NPC told reporters that the issue of continued arrests under the PTA was raised with the ambassador. 

Discussions also touched on proposed constitutional reforms that the Sri Lankan government claimed to have been considering more than eight months ago. “A request was also made to ensure that the constitutional amendment should fulfil the aspirations of the Tamil people,” Mr Sivagnanam said after the meeting. 

The NPC urged the United States to take a leading role on these issues, with Mr Sivgnanam telling reporters that as a nation that co-sponsored the UN resolution on Sri Lanka, the United States should also ensure the contents of the resolution are followed “in letter and spirit”.

The US ambassador with members of the Northern Provincial Council

Medical clinics with Sri Lankan troops
“It is a delight to be looking out over this beautiful city of Jaffna to see her churches, her temples, her beauty, the ocean that is very nearby, and to celebrate with you the enduring ties between the people of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka,” said Mr Keshap highlighting the historic relationship between Jaffna and the United States. 

“And friends, it gives me particular pride and happiness to know that the relationship between the people of America and the people of Jaffna stretches back over two hundred years to 1813, with the arrival of American missionaries who established durable institutions of learning.”

As part of his visit, the US Air Force’s Operation Pacific Angel will this week be “donating medical and dental equipment and providing free medical care, dental care, optometry, and physical therapy to the people of Jaffna”.

The medical clinics are due to be held in partnership with Sri Lankan troops, tens of thousands of whom are placed in the Northern peninsula which remains one of the most heavily militarised regions on the island. The Sri Lankan army has faced heavy criticism from Tamil politicians and civil society leaders for its continued interference in civilian life in the Tamil North-East, including the running of medical clinics.

Approximately 60 members of the US military are to participate in clinics throughout the coming week.

US troops conducting a clinic in Jaffna. Photograph: US Embassy in Sri Lanka

Meeting civil society
Mr Keshap also met with several civil society members during his trip, including the Jaffna Bishop Rev. Dr. Justin Gnanapragasam and Tamil journalists. The ambassador paid a trip to the American Corner Jaffna, where visitors can enjoy US university books and resources and met with members of the Muslim community.

Mr Keshap with Tamil journalists in Jaffna. Photograph: @USAmbKeshap
Members of the TNA met with the ambassador

With the Tamil National Alliance, Mr Keshap visited newly resettled Tamils in Palali and also met with other lawmakers to discuss the “accountability process” he tweeted.

“If we want to close permanently the dark chapter of the war, the Government of Sri Lanka cannot walk this path alone,” said in his concluding speech. 

“As Sri Lanka seizes on this golden moment of national reconciliation, we will remain your friend and partner. We want to join hands with you and your government to help rebuild the economy, advance good governance, and ensure equal rights, equal opportunity, and the full benefits of post-conflict development for all, regardless of ethnicity or religion or gender.”  

See the full video of his speech below and the full text here.