Kerry backs justice for Sri Lanka's war-hit Tamils

Kerry backs justice for Sri Lanka's war-hit Tamils

COLOMBO - US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to Sri Lanka Sunday after pledging support for minority Tamils following decades of ethnic war, a local Tamil politician said.

Kerry met heads of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main political party from the ethnic minority, a day after holding talks with Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena.

"He (Kerry) said he will do his best to support us to resolve outstanding issues," TNA lawmaker Suresh Premachandran told AFP after their 30-minute meeting at Kerry's hotel in the capital Colombo.

"They (US) will also keep pushing for reconciliation, justice and accountability," he added, referring to alleged war crimes committed by government forces in the final stages of the conflict that ended in May 2009.

On Saturday Kerry, whose presence in Colombo marked the island's return to the diplomatic fold, heaped praise on the new administration of Sirisena, who toppled strongman Mahinda Rajapakse at January elections.

The diplomat pledged support to ensure "true reconciliation" in Sri Lanka six years after the end of its 37-year Tamil separatist war which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

He echoed a longstanding Tamil demand to investigate the cases of thousands who went missing towards the end of the conflict.

"Try to find wherever the truth may lead. No matter how painful that truth is," Kerry said. "It's the right and the humane thing to do - and it is, believe it or not, an essential part of the healing process." Sirisena's administration has promised to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by troops under Rajapakse's command.

Kerry has promised technical assistance for any probe and also urged Sirisena to free hundreds of Tamils who are still being held without any charges against them.

During Rajapakse's decade-long rule, Washington was close to imposing sanctions on Colombo for refusing to allow investigations into claims of mass killings and rights abuses at the end of the war with the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

As Sri Lanka's relations with the West and regional powerhouse India soured, Rajapakse turned increasingly to Beijing, with Chinese-funded investments projects springing up across the island.

Since coming to power Sirisena has tried to reset the diplomatic balance, choosing India for his first foreign visit and offering the hand of friendship to other key players who fell out with his predecessor.

Kerry flew to Nairobi Sunday after meeting US embassy staff in Colombo.

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