Lanka’s reform agenda bolsters ties with US | Sunday Observer

Lanka’s reform agenda bolsters ties with US

Alice Wells
Alice Wells

The current coalition government’s commitment to a reform agenda has prompted growing interest in expanding engagement with the US including in military-to-military relations,” Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs has told a Congressional Subcommittee in a written submission last week.

“Our FY2018 request of $3.4 million in foreign assistance focuses on strong support for security cooperation and enhanced strategic trade controls, while contributing to Sri Lanka’s progress toward becoming a mine-impact-free nation by 2020,” she said in her statement to the HFAC Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Maintaining US Influence in South Asia: The FY 2018 Budget on September 7. Wells was in Sri Lanka from August 30 to September 2 and emphasized continued U.S. support for the Government of Sri Lanka’s efforts to promote reconciliation, economic development and equal rights for all Sri Lankans. During her visit she met with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Tamil National Alliance, and civil society. She also took part in the Indian Ocean Conference in Colombo.

Wells’ Statement in full:

“Since its historic January 2015 elections ushered in a path to reform and reconciliation, the United States has been partnering with Sri Lanka to make its workers more skilled and its citizens more empowered, while ensuring the Government continues its ambitious reform agenda. Our cooperation continues in economic development, governance, trade, and security.

“We are working together to fulfil the steps to which our nations agreed in a resolution (30/1) at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2015, and which were reaffirmed in a further HRC resolution (34/L.1) in March 2017. These resolutions committed the Sri Lankan government to transitional justice and prevention of the recurrence of the violence and abuses experienced during the nation’s 26-year conflict through constitutional, legislative, and security sector reforms. Specific steps include constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the central government to Sri Lanka’s regions, the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a law that meets international standards of fairness and due process, the return of land seized by the military during the war, and the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a truth and reconciliation commission, an office for reparations, and a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes. The United Nations will continue its oversight of the implementation of these steps through March 2019.

All along, however, we have recognized the need for Sri Lanka to take concrete steps toward its reform objectives. In accordance with limits set by Congress, our modest military-to-military engagement has therefore expanded slowly and incrementally.

“Additionally, the MCC is developing a compact with Sri Lanka after it successfully passed the MCC policy scorecard in 2016. In June, MCC approved an initial $7.4 million to study potential projects and conduct due diligence work in the transport and land sectors. MCC is working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to bring a compact for Board approval in 2018.” 

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