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Clinton Urges Sri Lanka Reconciliation


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday telephoned Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to appeal for political reconciliation in that country after the government's defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels. U.S. officials are urging the speedy resettlement of nearly 300,000 displaced Tamil civilians.

U.S. officials said future peace in Sri Lanka may depend on how the Colombo government handles the immediate aftermath of the war, and the Secretary called the Sri Lankan president to personally stress the need for post-conflict power sharing that includes minority Tamils.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Clinton made the call to the Sri Lanka leader after a telephone talk Wednesday with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who is due to begin a visit the South Asian island nation on Friday.

Kelly said the United States is pressing Colombo authorities to allow officials of the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross into the former conflict area to assess humanitarian needs, and to allow unhindered access to the camps where Tamil civilians displaced by the fighting are being processed and housed.

The spokesman said the United States believes the end of the 26-year conflict, Asia's longest-running war, presents an opportunity to seek inter-communal peace and build a democratic and tolerant Sri Lanka.

"We believe the Sri Lankan government must win the peace, by focusing on power-sharing arrangements with the Tamils and other minorities,” he said. “And regarding the humanitarian situation, we think that ultimately the best solution is for these internally-displaced persons to voluntarily return to their homes in safety and dignity, as soon as possible," Kelly added.

Later, at a photo session with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Secretary Clinton said she and the Sri Lankan leader discussed international assistance to that country, and that she stressed the importance of "healing and reconciliation" there.

The United States had long listed the defeated rebels - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE - as a terrorist organization.

But as the war neared its end earlier this month, with LTTE fighters and Tamil civilians trapped in a narrow coastal area on the northern tip of the island, U.S. officials expressed concern about the government's use of heavy weapons against the stronghold despite a commitment to show restraint.

The concern prompted the Obama administration last week to use its influence at the International Monetary Fund to put on hold a Sri Lankan request for an emergency IMF loan of nearly two billion dollars.

Spokesman Kelly said Thursday the issue of U.S. backing for the loan is under review, and that the United States remains concerned about the lack of international access to the former conflict zone and humanitarian conditions for displaced persons he described as "dire."

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