Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Soldiers took orders from me" - SL President

By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka is facing a conspiracy to devalue its achievement of defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and ending the group’s 26-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

There is “conspiracy after conspiracy to downgrade the heroic feat achieved by the armed forces,” Rajapaksa said, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

Sri Lanka has been criticized for keeping more than 280,000 Tamils displaced by the civil war in camps since the last LTTE forces were routed in May on the northeastern coast. The government says people will be resettled after mines are cleared from former conflict zones and the northern region is secure.

Sri Lanka isn’t making the expected progress toward a lasting peace since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Lynn Pascoe, the UN’s political chief, said last week at the end of a visit to the South Asian island nation to press for a swift release of displaced people from camps.

Western nations should help Sri Lanka rebuild after the war and stop criticizing the country over human rights and the treatment of displaced people, Rajapaksa said earlier this month in an interview with France’s Le Figaro daily newspaper.

Rajapaksa’s government and the Tamil Tigers have been criticized by the UN over alleged human rights abuses during the conflict. A UN envoy last week called for an independent investigation into whether a video that may show the army executing nine people is authentic.

The government has said it will cooperate with any UN probe and that four investigations it has carried out show the tape is a fake.

Taking Orders

Soldiers fought bravely to end the war, Rajapaksa said, adding they took orders from him and he will appear before any judiciary on their behalf. The president was speaking at the weekend in the capital, Colombo, according to the government’s Web site.

Rajapaksa told Pascoe when they met on Sept. 18 that the resettlement of internally displaced people should be completed by the end of January. The process does depend on mine clearing, he added.

“We understand there are security concerns,” Pascoe said after the meeting, according to the UN. “At the same time, this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.”

People aren’t free “to come and go and they are understandably upset,” said Pascoe, who visited camps in the north last week, including Manik Farm near Vavuniya, the center holding the most refugees.

The government says it must undertake security checks of displaced people after receiving information that Tamil Tiger fighters infiltrated the camps.

“If there is more screening to do it should be speeded up,” Pascoe said. “It appears there are areas where de-mining is not a big concern. For those areas, families who have passed the screening process could be resettled without much further delay.”

© Bloomberg

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