June 11, 2008 / 3:28 PM / 11 years ago

EU puts Sri Lanka aid package on the line

COLOMBO, June 11 (Reuters) - The Europen Commission has serious concerns about Sri Lanka’s human rights record and will withhold a 70 million-euro aid package unless it opens up, a top EU official said on Wednesday.

The commission said the package was dependent on Sri Lanka removing barriers to humanitarian assistance, including resolving visa issues for Red Cross and U.N. workers in the country.

"We expressed our serious concerns with the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, as indicated by a range of sources including reports from United Nations rapporteurs," Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission Joao Machado said in a statement.

"We emphasised — there are increasing problems in delivering this aid in Sri Lanka that need to be resolved," said Machado after meeting with Sri Lankan government officials.

The government said the human rights situation had improved, but admitted there had been concerns about rights violations in the past.

"If you look at 2007, the situation of disappearances and other incidences are better than 2006," said Rajiva Wijesinghe, an official at the ministry of human rights.

Rights watchdogs have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on government security forces and Tamil Tiger separatists since a bloody civil war, in which 70,000 people have died since 1983, resumed in 2006. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ajith Jayasinghe; Edting by Jeremy Laurence)

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