Sri Lanka refuses visa to top US official

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Colombo, Feb 4 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government has refused to issue a visa to US Ambassador at Large for Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell, forcing her to cancel a high-level visit scheduled for Feb 10-11.

“It is regrettable that the government of Sri Lanka has refused to grant a visa to Ambassador Catherine Russell for this trip,” Xinhua cited local media Tuesday as quoting a US embassy spokesman.

Ambassador Russell had planned to spend a day in Colombo and a day in Jaffna. Her agenda had included meetings with government officials, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus as well as with women’s organisations from around Sri Lanka.

Her visa application was officially submitted Jan 27 and rejected Jan 31.

The US official, who is a high-ranking, former senior White House aide, will be travelling in the region over the next week.

Authoritative sources said the US embassy now expects to connect Sri Lankan civil society, parliamentarians, women’s groups and other representatives with her via video conference. Her objective is reportedly to raise their concerns about the issues women in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government is seething over remarks made in Colombo by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal.

Addressing the media at the end of an official visit last week, she said frustration and scepticism among the US and international community about Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in investigating the final days of the war have led to increasing calls for an international investigation.

“Patience is wearing thin,” she warned.

Sri Lanka’s ministry of external affairs in Colombo hit back, saying the US had a desire to believe the worst of Sri Lanka.

“There is a lack of objectivity in recognising the substantial progress in addressing the challenges during the brief span of four-and-a-half years since the end of an armed conflict of 30 years,” its statement said. “Therefore, ‘patience wearing thin’ is a misnomer.”

“It is the trajectory of the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka to ensure the best for its people,” the ministry asserted.

“Statements during the last few days are indicative of a desire to believe the worst and to work to a preconceived political agenda.”

The rejection of Ambassador Russell’s visa, however, preceded Biswal’s press conference Feb 1.

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