Rights, democracy under threat in Sri Lanka: US envoy

COLOMBO (AFP) - Democracy is under threat in Sri Lanka and its rights record has deteriorated in the five years since the end of a bloody ethnic war, a top US envoy said Saturday.

Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said Colombo had failed to ensure reconciliation, justice and accountability, and pressure was building for a foreign probe.

"Lack of progress in Sri Lanka has led to a great deal of frustration and scepticism in my government and in the international community," Ms Biswal told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Sri Lanka.

She said the US favoured a "domestic process" to investigate allegations of war crimes, including charges that thousands of civilians were killed by government forces in the final months of fighting in 2009, but there was no progress.

"The international community's patience is wearing thin," she said, adding mounting calls for an external investigation are the result of Colombo's failure to show progress.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron warned during a Commonwealth summit in Colombo in November he would use London's UN position to press for an independent international investigation unless Colombo showed results by March.

Ms Biswal said the US was moving another resolution against Sri Lanka at next month's UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva to nudge Sri Lanka to do more to ensure "reconciliation, justice, and accountability".

"Respect for human rights and a promotion of transparent and democratic governance are essential. Unfortunately, continued deterioration in these areas is already beginning to take its toll on democracy in Sri Lanka," she said.

Ms Biswal, who arrived in Colombo on Friday, is the second US envoy to travel to Sri Lanka in recent weeks after war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp stirred controversy by visiting a former Sri Lankan battleground last month.

Sri Lanka has consistently denied what the UN calls credible allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by Sri Lankan troops in the final months of the war that ended in 2009.

Government forces declared victory after wiping out the leadership of Tamil Tiger rebels in a no-holds-barred offensive that brought to an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed which, according to the UN, had claimed at least 100,000 lives.

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