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US Lawmakers Ask Bush to Appoint Peace Envoy for Sri Lanka

by AFP, February 6, 2007

"The renewed violence and rising death toll in Sri Lanka have overtaken the fragile peace process and threaten a return to open civil war," they said. "Further, we are troubled by the large increase in kidnappings across Sri Lanka, most of which remain unsolved."

A group 38 US lawmakers have asked President George W. Bush to appoint a special envoy to help bring about peace in conflict-ridden Sri Lanka.

The legislators from the House of Representatives said in a letter to Bush that they were troubled by renewed violence and a rising number of deaths as well as a big increase in unsolved kidnappings across Sri Lanka.

"It is time for the United States to provide global leadership to help advance peace for the people of Sri Lanka," they said, according to a copy of the letter obtained by AFP from the office of New Jersey Democratic Representative Rush Holt (news, bio, voting record), who initiated the move.

In the letter sent to the White House last week, the lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle said the special envoy should be a high-level official with access to Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a "clear" mandate to increase monitoring of human rights violations.

"We are writing to urge you to appoint a special envoy for Sri Lanka because we are deeply troubled by the ever-worsening situation on the ground there," they said.

"The renewed violence and rising death toll in Sri Lanka have overtaken the fragile peace process and threaten a return to open civil war," they said. "Further, we are troubled by the large increase in kidnappings across Sri Lanka, most of which remain unsolved."

Government troops and rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), leading a decades-old campaign for a separate state in northeast Sri Lanka, have been trading attacks with nearly 4,000 people killed in the past year despite a Norwegian-backed February 2002 truce.

The latest attempt at peace talks ended in failure in October.

The United States as well as Sri Lanka's other key international backers Japan and the European Union have asked both sides to resume talks and end the latest cycle of deepening violence.

Washington, which has ruled out a military solution to the conflict, banned the Tamil Tigers in October 1997 and has backed moves to staunch the flow of funds to the rebel group.

But the United States has also maintained that Sri Lanka should engage with the guerrillas to hammer out a political solution to the conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.