Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"How many international inquiries is Sri Lanka supposed to subject itself to?" - SL Minister

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By Tony Cross - Sri Lanka's government will face down pressure for an international inquiry into a video which appears to show soldiers killing prisoners in cold blood, International Trade Minister GL Peiris has told RFI. Peiris insists that the video has been faked by Tamil rebel sympathisers.

The footage, which has been distributed by a group called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and broadcast by several TV channels in Europe, is "entirely fictitious", according to the minister.

UN special rapporteur Philip Alston on Friday called for an investigation into the video.

But Peiris indignantly rejects the call.

“How many international inquiries is Sri Lanka supposed to subject itself to," he asks, "now there is the inquiry that Brussels has ordered in respect of human rights in Sri Lanka, that is the European Commission. At this rate it would seem that Sri Lanka does not have the status of a sovereign state at all."

The alleged executions supposedly took place during the offensive which finally defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, in May, and were supposedly captured on a mobile phone.

Peiris argues that LTTE supporters have previously produced a video which supposedly showed the guerrillas' leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, “with a smug expression on his face, watching his own body" on television after he had been killed by government troops.

"In the Sri Lankan media somebody has done a technical analysis of this and pointed out certain technical flaws, which clearly demonstrate that this is a fake," Peiris claims. But he adds that the govenrment may look into the evidence itself.

Press freedom campaigners, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reject Peiris's accusation of trickery.

"This happened in January when there were no journalists in the area," says Vincent Brossel in an email to RFI. "It is not easy - even impossible - to get this video off a soldier. It was Sri Lankan journalists with no sympathy for the LTTE who made it public, not some small Tamil group."

While acknowledging US assistance in defeating the LTTE, Peiris is indignant at international criticism of alleged human rights abuses during the war.

“Now Sri Lanka with its modest resources managed to do something that nobody else was able to do, that is to overcome terrorism by military means," he says.

"But what has been the reaction of some countries? Are they pleased about it? Have they expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka? Have they reached out? Have they offered good will and friendship? No. It has always been criticism, judgemental postures, hectoring, all of that."

An estimated 297,000 Tamils were housed in refugee camps as the military pursued their offensive. They are soon likely to face grim conditions when monsoon rains break.

About 59,000 have been returned to their homes, according to the government.

"We’re fully conscious of the fact that there is an element of urgency," says Peiris. "These people have to be resettled, the monsoons are going to create a problem."

But "the main constraint is demining", he says. Ordnance left from the war make most of the area too dangerous for resettlement at the moment, he says.

The government has indicated 70-80 per cent will be able to return “in the next few months”.

Meanwhile, the military is searching for thousands of LTTE fighters who they believe have hidden among the displaced people, interrogating suspects and separating them from the others.

"Certainly, a significant number have found their way into the camps," says Peiris. "They will have to be isolated from the others and they cannot be sent back immediately into civil society because don’t forget that thousands of army personnel … sacrificed their lives to achieve this result. So nobody wants a resumption of hostilities."

And there are arms caches in the evacuated areas, the government says, meaning that guerrillas could use them to stage new attacks.

"If the LTTE cadres that are at present in the camps are simply sent out, then it will be a relatively easy matter for them to secure access to the arms which they have hidden," Peiris says.

"Just one or two big incidents will destroy everything that has been accomplished at very considerable cost in terms of human lives and suffering during the last few months."

The UN children's fund, Unicef, on Monday rejected claims that its communications chief, James Elder, has been spreading LTTE propaganda.

The government says that it is reviewing a move to expel Elder from the country.

© Radio France International

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