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Interview With BBC World News


Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
February 22, 2010

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BBC: What is the American view of what is taking place in Sri Lanka? Live now to the U.S. State Department in Washington, and Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

Assistant Secretary, thanks very much for joining us here on BBC World News. What is your reading of what is underway now in Sri Lanka? Do you accept that General Fonseka is experiencing a due and proper legal process?

Assistant Secretary Blake: So far I think it has been less than we might have hoped for, but we’ve certainly encouraged the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that he is charged promptly, as you said, and that everything is handled in accordance with Sri Lankan law as they move forward.

BBC: Do you think you have democracy or they have democracy in Sri Lanka which is acceptable under international norms?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I think they do have a democracy, and certainly they have a very proud democratic tradition. One aspect of democracy, of course, is respect for human rights. Again, I think there can be, there needs to be improvements in that area. We’ve spoken particularly about the importance of greater respect for freedom of the media and freedom of the press.

BBC: What though is the position particularly after what’s happened to General Fonseka, Retired General Fonseka now? The fact that he was dragged from his office, watched by supporters, and is now being held in a naval detention facility. Do you accept that as a legitimate part of a democratic and legal process?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We haven’t yet seen what the charges are, so I really can’t comment on that. Again, we’ve encouraged the government to make public as quickly as possible what those charges are. But I think that Sri Lankans themselves have spoken about the manner in which General Fonseka was arrested. Several monks, for example, several Buddhist monks have noted that this was handled in a very unprofessional and undignified way.

BBC: It is now eight months since the end of the war with the Tamil Tigers. They were defeated. What’s your view on the respect now being shown for the Tamil minority?

Assistant Secretary Blake: In our view I think one of the highest priorities now is first, to complete the resettlement of the internally displaced people. About 180,000 have been sent back from the camps, but approximately 100,000 still remain. So I think it’s important for them to be allowed to return to their homes and villages in the north as quickly as possible.

Secondly, I think it’s important for the government to pursue as quickly as possible this process of national reconciliation and power sharing, particularly with the north. Then as part of that national reconciliation process, to begin a process of accountability for many of the human rights abuses that may have occurred during that war. And third, to again talk about the larger issue of possible war crimes that may have occurred. Again, that will be an important part of the larger reconciliation piece.

BBC: Assistant Secretary while you’re joining me, and thanks for joining us live from the State Department in Washington, can I just turn your focus to the north of Sri Lanka, to India and Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary will arrive in Delhi and have a meeting with the Indian Foreign Secretary at the Indian invitation on Thursday, the first such meeting for more than 15 months. What expectations do you have of at least the opening of this dialogue?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We welcome very much the fact that these talks are taking place. I think this is a significant breakthrough, and I really want to commend both the Indians and the Pakistanis for arranging these talks. As you say, the talks have been suspended for some time as a result of the November 2008 bombings in Mumbai, so we think this is a very valuable opportunity for both of these countries to explore the important issues on their agenda, but also to think about ways that they can begin the process of reestablishing the composite dialogue that they suspended and again, normalize relations.

As you know, a great deal of progress was made between 2004 and 2007. I think we and the Indians and the Pakistanis themselves hope that that progress can be reestablished.

BBC: Assistant Secretary, thanks very much indeed for joining us live from the Department of State in Washington D.C.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you. It was a pleasure.





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