Sri Lanka’s commitment to a reform agenda has increased its engagement with the US, including military-to-military relations, a top Trump administration official has said.
“The current coalition government’s commitment to a reform agenda has prompted growing interest in expanding engagement with the US including in military-to-military relations,” Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs told a Congressional Subcommittee in a written submission, the Press Trust of India reported.
Wells is scheduled to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on “Maintaining US Influence in South Asia: The FY 2018 Budget”.
“All along, however, we have recognised the need for Sri Lanka to take concrete steps toward its reform objectives. In accordance with limits set by Congress, our modest military-to-military engagement has therefore expanded slowly and incrementally,” she said in her written testimony.
Since its historic January 2015 elections ushered in a path to reform and reconciliation, the United States has been partnering with Sri Lanka to make its workers more skilled and its citizens more empowered, while ensuring the government continues its ambitious reform agenda, she said.
“Our cooperation continues in economic development, governance, trade, and security,” she said.
Wells said the US and Sri Lanka are working together to fulfil steps to which they agreed in a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2015.
This was reaffirmed in a further HRC resolution in March 2017.
“These resolutions committed the Sri Lankan government to transitional justice and prevention of the recurrence of the violence and abuses experienced during the nation’s 26-year conflict through constitutional, legislative, and security sector reforms,” she added.
Specific steps include constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the central government to Sri Lanka’s regions, the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a law that meets international standards of fairness and due process, the return of land seized by the military during the war among others.
The United Nations will continue its oversight of the implementation of these steps through March 2019, the testimony said.
Wells said for the 2018 fiscal the US request of USD 3.4 million in foreign assistance focuses on strong support for security cooperation and enhanced strategic trade controls, while contributing to Sri Lanka’s progress toward becoming a mine-impact-free nation by 2020.
Additionally, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is developing a compact with Sri Lanka after it successfully passed the MCC policy scorecard in 2016.
In June, the MCC approved an initial USD 7.4 million to study potential projects and conduct due diligence work in the transport and land sectors.
It is working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to bring a compact for Board approval in 2018, she said. (Colombo Gazette)