The United States says it will refuse visas on human rights grounds to a Sri Lankan provincial governor who has been charged with killings during the island nation’s long civil war.
A Sri Lankan investigation accused Wasantha Karannagoda, a former navy chief, among others, of abducting teenage children of wealthy families and killing them after extorting money.
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Authorities in 2021 dropped the charges, prompting an outcry from human rights groups, and he was soon named governor of North Western Province by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who served as defence chief when Sri Lanka defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said that “the allegation that Wasantha Karannagoda committed a gross human rights violation, documented by NGOs and independent investigations, is serious and credible”.
Neither the governor nor his wife, Srimathi Ashoka Karannagoda, would be allowed to visit the US, Blinken said in a statement.
“The United States reaffirms its commitment to upholding human rights, ending impunity for human rights violators, acknowledging the suffering of victims and survivors and promoting accountability for perpetrators in Sri Lanka.”
The action on human rights grounds comes as the US and India voice alarm over inroads in Sri Lanka by China, the island’s biggest creditor.
Sri Lanka last year defaulted on its external debt and saw angry protests that toppled Rajapaksa over economic mismanagement that brought acute food, fuel and medicine shortages.
During the 26-year-long conflict, Tamil rebels fought for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
More than 100,000 people, including 40,000 civilians according to a United Nations panel, may have been killed during the conflict. Sri Lankan government officials deny abuses.