WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Sri Lanka on Saturday to meet with its new president, Maithripala Sirisena, the State Department said, following years of strained relations between Washington and the country’s previous government.
Sirisena took power in January after defeating President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Asia’s longest-serving leader, at the polls. The new president pledged to launch a 100-day plan to roll back a decade of increasingly authoritarian rule.
Ties between Washington and Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo had become strained under Rajapaksa, who had sought closer ties with Beijing and allowed Chinese submarines to dock in Sri Lanka.
Recently, Rajapaksa’s once-powerful family has come under accusations of inappropriate activities. His younger brother, Basil, was detained on April 22 on suspicion of misappropriating state funds.
Another brother, Gotabaya, the former defense secretary, has been accused of having a “private military”, an allegation he has denied.
The upcoming visit will be Kerry’s first trip to Sri Lanka and the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 2004.
During his visit, Kerry will laud the country for a “successful” election and smooth transition. He will also likely underscore longstanding U.S. human rights concerns, especially war crimes committed under the Rajapaksa regime during the country’s civil war between 1983 and 2009, according to U.S. officials.
After Sri Lanka, Kerry heads to Africa to meet with government officials and business leaders in Kenya. He will also focus on security cooperation in the face of rising threats from Somali Islamists, U.S. officials said.
On May 5, Kerry will travel to Djibouti to meet with the country’s leaders and discuss their support for evacuation efforts from conflict-hit Yemen. While there, he will visit U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Emily Stephenson