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Sri Lanka lifts emergency laws

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Washington announced it was sending a top diplomat to Sri Lanka after the country's president said he was lifting emergency laws in place since 1979.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Thursday that the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tiger rebel group meant there was no need to keep emergency laws in place.

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"To carry forward the day-to-day activities in a democratic way, I propose there is no need for emergency regulations anymore," he was quoted by the United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN as saying.

Human rights groups accuse Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan government of violations of the laws of war during their 25-year conflict. The United Nations said thousands were killed in 2009 when government forces defeated Tamil rebels. Rajapaksa denied any wrongdoing in the defeat.

Jehan Perera, director of the Sri Lankan National Peace Council, told IRIN that Rajapaksa's decision shows the government is "at least interested" in restoring some liberties in the country.

Ruki Fernando, head of the Law and Society Trust, told the U.N. the reforms were just "cosmetic," however.

The U.S. State Department announced Thursday that Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, will travel Monday to Sri Lanka.

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"He will meet with government officials, civil society representatives, university students and political leaders while in Sri Lanka," the announcement read.

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