'Sri Lanka can count on US to be a friend' - Bishwal

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Exactly a year after warning Sri Lanka about the pace of its post-war reconciliation, the United States on Monday said it stood with the island nation.

“The United States stands with Sri Lanka,” said Nisha Desai Biswal, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in Colombo.

Here on a two-day visit Ms. Biswal, following a meeting with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, said that Sri Lanka could count on the U.S. 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 or ensuring human rights and democratic participation for all of its citizens,” she said, addressing media persons at the Foreign Ministry.

The visiting U.S. diplomat’s remarks appear to be a departure from U.S.’s apparently tough stance on Sri Lanka over the last few years.

Mr. Biswal, during her February 2014 visit to Sri Lanka, had observed that the patience of the international community over Sri Lanka’s pace of reconciliation was wearing thin and that the “deterioration in human rights, transparency and governance was taking a toll on democracy” in the country.

While Washington extended considerable support to Colombo during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s brutal war, U.S.-Sri Lanka ties seemed increasingly strained during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, particularly over Sri Lanka’s rights record with the U.S. sponsoring a resolution against the island nation at the Human Rights Council.

‘Ambitious programme’

“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,” Ms. Biswal said, less than a month after the country’s January 8 elections that saw former President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated.

Commending the new dispensation, Ms. Biswal said much of the “ambitious” 100 day-programme put forward by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had “already been accomplished in such a short time.”

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said Sri Lanka wanted to raise its relationship with the U.S. to a new level of cordiality.

“I hope to continue this dialogue in Washington next week when I meet the Secretary of State on Feb 12,” he said. (The Hindu)

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