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September 22, 2017

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Women's rights envoy denied entry into Sri Lanka: official

COLOMBO--Sri Lanka has refused a top U.S. women's rights official entry to the country, just days after another senior envoy alleged Colombo's rights record was deteriorating, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday.

U.S. ambassador at large for women's issues Catherine Russell was due to visit Sri Lanka ahead of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting next month at which Colombo is due to face fresh censure.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said it was "regrettable" Colombo had refused to grant Russell a visa for the planned visit this month.

"Ambassador Russell's mandate is to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world," the spokesman said.

The refusal came after Nisha Biswal, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters on Saturday the U.S. was concerned about the worsening human rights situation, during her visit to the island.

At the end of the two-day trip, Biswal also said the U.S. was worried about a weakening of the rule of law and an increase in corruption levels and impunity in Sri Lanka since a 37-year conflict ended in May 2009.

Sri Lanka rejected the comments as "patently unfair" and accused Biswal of wanting to believe the worst about the island.

Another U.S. envoy, war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp, stirred controversy in Sri Lanka last month by visiting a former battleground.

There was no immediate comment from Colombo over the refusal to grant Russell a visa.

"The U.S. will continue to raise important issues related to gender based violence, the impact that the conflict had on families (particularly female headed households), the need for greater economic empowerment by women, and for greater political participation by women across Sri Lanka," the embassy spokesman said.

Sri Lanka is under increasing international pressure to probe its own troops over allegations that they killed thousands of civilians in the final stages of the war.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's government denies any civilians were killed by its troops and has rejected calls for an international inquiry.

Washington was expected to move a third resolution in as many years at next month's UNHRC sessions against Colombo to nudge the island to improve its rights record.

Sri Lankan government forces declared victory nearly five years ago after wiping out the leadership of Tamil Tiger rebels in a no-holds-barred offensive.

At least 100,000 people were killed during the separatist war, according to U.N. figures.

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