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Kerry looks to reset U.S.-Sri Lanka relations

By Amy R. Connolly
Kerry looks to reset U.S.-Sri Lanka relations
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) stands with Defense Secretary Ash Carter (R), Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (L) and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (2ndL) while U.S. President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office at the White House, on Wednesday in Washington, DC. Kerry visited Sri Lanka Saturday to praise the country's new government. Photo by Mark Wilson/UPI. | License Photo

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, May 2 (UPI) -- Secretary of State John Kerry praised Sri Lanka's new reformist government Saturday, saying the island country has made "enormous progress" as it emerges from decades of civil war.

Kerry, the first secretary of state to visit Sri Lanka in a decade, applauded the "openness" of the new government in its efforts to boost human rights, democracy and reconcile with the country's minority Tamils. He said the United States would provide "technical assistance" as the newly elected government, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, makes constitutional and democratic reforms. He added the U.S.Treasury and Commerce departments would assist in developing plans for growth and investments.

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"One thing which struck me was the readiness of this government to open its doors, to open its minds to different ideas," he said after meeting with Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera. "You are working on creating an enduring peace and you are working on providing prosperity for all of your people."

Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war against Tamil Tiger separatists ended in 2009, with rampant accusations of human-rights violations from both sides. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, widely praised for winning the war, was voted out in January. Many, including Washington, raised concerns over his growing autocratic rule and allegations of corruption and nepotism.

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Samaraweera praised Kerry's visit, the first since a 2005 visit from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, as a promise for the future.

"I believe that this important visit signifies the return of our little island nation to the center stage of international affairs," said Samaraweera. "Today Sri Lanka is well on its way to becoming a fully-fledged parliament democracy, laying the foundation for a new Sri Lanka, built on the pillars of democracy and ethnic harmony.

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