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Clinton Prods Sri Lanka on Reconciliation Commission

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the reconciliation commission being set up by Sri Lanka to look into the armed conflict that ended there a year ago must be seen as independent, competent and impartial. Clinton met with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris Friday amid calls from human rights groups for an independent, international inquiry.

Secretary Clinton says she supports the Sri Lankan commission plans in principle, but is also making clear that the United States wants the panel to have a mandate broad enough to fully investigate alleged human rights abuses.

Clinton Prods Sri Lanka on Reconciliation Commission

Clinton Prods Sri Lanka on Reconciliation Commission

The Sri Lankan government said earlier this month it was creating a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission to examine the final stages of the 20-year civil conflict that ended a year ago with the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

International organizations have accused both sides of human-rights abuses in the last month of the bitter conflict in which several thousand civilians, mostly ethnic Tamils, were reported killed.

Clinton and her Sri Lankan counterpart discussed the commission plan and postwar recovery at a meeting here.

At a press event, Clinton said commissions of this kind have played an important role in advancing accountability and redressing wrongs in other countries emerging from civil strife.

She said the United States is supportive of the Sri Lankan approach, but wants the envisaged commission to have a broad mandate, adequate resources and members who are seen as independent, impartial and competent.

"We expect that the mandate will enable them to fully investigate serious allegations of violations, and to make public recommendations, that commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection," she said. "And the commission must be able to work with the government so that the government will give due consideration to the recommendations," said Clinton.

In advance of Friday's meeting, the group Human Rights Watch said the Sri Lankan inquiry plans fall far short of minimum standards, and urged Secretary Clinton to endorse an independent international commission.

The Colombo government has rejected such calls. Standing alongside Clinton, Foreign Minister Peiris said the Sri Lankan panel will include people of stature and independence and will have a mandate "broad enough to address critical issues."

But he said its focus has to be local, and appealed to the world community to give the process a chance:

"Our plea is that we be given the space to allow the commission to begin its work without impediment and without hindrance," said Peiris. "And certainly along the road, if we feel there is a need for support, then we would certainly be happy to engage in a dialogue with the United Nations to gain the benefit of the wisdom and the experience of the United Nations. But we think that at the start, the commission must be given every encouragement to set about its work, and there must be a presumption that it is going to succeed," Peiris concluded.

The Sri Lankan foreign minister said his government has lifted 70 percent of wartime emergency regulations, and that the remainder will not remain a moment longer than necessary.

He thanked the State Department for lifting a long-standing warning earlier this week advising U.S. citizens to be cautious about traveling to Sri Lanka.