US pledges friendship to new Sri Lanka government

Updated 02 February 2015

US pledges friendship to new Sri Lanka government

COLOMBO: A top US diplomat has promised that Washington would be a friend and partner of Colombo as she made the first visit by a senior American official since the toppling of Sri Lanka’s long-time strongman.
In the build-up to last month’s presidential elections, a top lieutenant to then president Mahinda Rajapaksa accused the United States of trying to bring about “regime change,” marking a new low in bilateral relations.
But since Rajapaksa was beaten at the ballot box, the US has moved swiftly to rebuild ties with a country that has become increasingly close to China over the past decade.
Speaking on a visit to Colombo, Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal said the US was ready to help Sri Lanka on a range of issues, including its human rights record, which was hugely contentious under Rajapaksa.
“I am indeed excited to be in Sri Lanka and see for myself the energy that has the world talking about Sri Lanka and about Sri Lanka’s democracy and for all the right reasons,” Biswal said.
“Sri Lanka can count on the US to be a partner and a friend in the way forward, whether it is on rebuilding the economy, on preventing corruption, and advancing good governance and ensuring human rights and democratic participation for all of its citizens.”
Speaking to reporters after talks with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Biswal stressed the new government could count on US support to meet “difficult challenges ahead.”
She did not directly refer to the pending US-initiated probe into allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan forces while defeating Tamil separatists in 2009.
However, she said Washington wanted to work with Colombo to “find constructive ways forward on all the areas of interest between our two nations.”
Samaraweera said he would be traveling to Washington for talks with Secretary of State John Kerry next week.
“We want to raise the relationship between our two countries to a new level of cordiality and I hope to continue this dialogue in Washington,” he said.
Rajapaksa, who ruled the island for a decade, alienated many foreign leaders by refusing to cooperate with an international probe into alleged abuses in the final stages of a 37-year civil war that ended in 2009.
Kerry had voiced appreciation for Rajapaksa’s early concession of defeat in the January 8 vote, although there have since been allegations that he tried to hold onto power by staging a coup.


Sri Lanka prison riot over coronavirus leaves 6 dead

Updated 33 min 42 sec ago

Sri Lanka prison riot over coronavirus leaves 6 dead

  • Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the facilities

COLOMBO: Inmates unhappy about the coronavirus threat at an overcrowded prison near Sri Lanka’s capital have clashed with guards who opened fire, leaving six prisoners dead and 35 others injured, officials said Monday. Two guards were critically injured, they said.
Pandemic-related unrest has been growing in the country’s prisons. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the facilities.
More than a thousand inmates in five prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least two have died. About 50 prison guards have also tested positive.
Senaka Perera, a lawyer with the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, said the inmates at Mahara prison near Colombo had been frustrated because their pleas for coronavirus testing and separation of infected prisoners had been ignored by officials for more than a month.
Sri Lanka has experienced an upsurge in coronavirus cases since last month when two clusters – one centered at a garment factory and other at a fish market – emerged in Colombo and its suburbs.
Confirmed cases from the two clusters have reached 19,449. Sri Lanka has reported a total number of 22,988 coronavirus cases, including 109 fatalities.