June 15, 2010 / 4:52 PM / 10 years ago

White House officials meet Sri Lankan president

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Two White House officials met Sri Lanka’s president on Tuesday, part of a series of diplomatic visits this week amid renewed heat on the island nation to probe possible rights violations at the end of its civil war last year.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa waves during a May Day rally in Colombo May 1, 2010. Two White House officials met Sri Lanka's president on Tuesday, part of a series of diplomatic visits this week amid renewed heat on the island nation to probe possible rights violations at the end of its civil war last year. REUTERS/STR

The U.S. visit coincides with those of U.N. political chief Lynn Pascoe, expected to meet the president and others on Wednesday and Thursday, and a Japanese peace envoy on his 20th trip to Sri Lanka.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has urged Sri Lanka to ensure its investigation into allegations of war crimes, largely involving civilian deaths, delivers credible results and is given the power to follow any leads.

Human rights groups took advantage of the first anniversary of Sri Lanka’s victory over the separatists Tamil Tigers on May 19 to renew old calls for an international war crimes probe. They blame the government for tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Sri Lanka rejects the efforts as engineered by Tamil Tiger supporters living in Western nations who are upset the group was defeated and now fear their political asylum could end because the war is over. It denies the civilian casualty allegations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after meeting her Sri Lankan counterpart, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, said last month a Sri Lankan commission investigating possible violations held promise that Washington expected it to deliver.

Samantha Power, special assistant to Obama on multilateral affairs and human rights, and David Pressman, National Security Council director for war crimes and atrocities, met President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday, the start of a four-day trip.

“The visit aims to continue last month’s productive dialogue ... in which both leaders discussed Sri Lanka’s path through economic renewal, accountability, and reconciliation to greater peace, prosperity,” a U.S. statement said.

A Sri Lankan presidential spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, described the discussions as cordial and related to matters of mutual interest.

Sri Lanka has urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to shelve plans to appoint a panel to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka for civilian deaths, but a spokesman this week said the panel would be named soon.

Sri Lanka is still in discussions with the European Union over the impending loss of a trade preference, which is due to be revoked because it has not certain human rights standards.

Colombo says the West is applying a double standard by insisting on an investigation while the United States and Britain are not being probed despite thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

A U.S. State Department report released last year detailed possible atrocities by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers during the final battle of the war and urged Colombo to investigate the allegations.

(Editing by Bryson Hull)

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