US nominee says Sri Lanka must help Tamils
Wed, Jun 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Sri Lanka needs to reach out to its Tamil minority and improve conditions for hundreds of thousands of displaced after defeating Tiger rebels, the nominee to be the next US ambassador has said.

Patricia Butenis, testifying in a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, said she would also press Sri Lanka to bring to justice those responsible for extrajudicial killings and attacks on the media.

"Our main message to the Sri Lankan government is don't lose this opportunity," said Butenis, a career diplomat who was recently deputy chief of mission in Baghdad and has been ambassador to Bangladesh.

"The focus is to have the Tamil population understand that they have a future in their own country, in a unified Sri Lanka, and that the government itself has to appreciate that and work with the international community, I think, a little bit more than it has to date."

The Tigers, who were seeking a separate Tamil homeland for more than three decades, were defeated last month when government troops annihilated a rebel leadership reduced to a sliver of land.

More than 300,000 displaced Tamils are living behind barbed wire in squalid camps. The government says it must weed out those who belonged to the Tigers, who were notorious for their suicide bombings.

Butenis said she would press Sri Lanka to allow "unfettered" access by humanitarian workers to the camps.

If confirmed, Butenis would also be the US ambassador to the Indian Ocean archipelago of Maldives, which last year elected former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed as president and ousted Asia's longest-serving leader.

Butenis said the United States would work with Nasheed on climate change, a priority both for President Barack Obama's new administration and for low-lying Maldives which fears for its very survival.

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