Saturday, September 19, 2009

UN urges Sri Lanka to probe war crimes charges

By Amal Jayasinghe - A top UN official issued a strong call for "truth-seeking" into alleged excesses by security forces during the crushing of Tamil rebels as he ended a visit to Sri Lanka, a UN statement said on Saturday.

"We feel that ideally the Sri Lankans should carry out a national process of truth-seeking and accountability," the UN's political chief Lynn Pascoe said a statement issued in Colombo after his departure late on Friday.

Pascoe, undersecretary general for political affairs, asked Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to set up a process to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes, said the statement.

"The (truth-seeking) process has to be serious, independent and impartial," said Pascoe, a deputy to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Sri Lanka has consistently resisted US- and European-led calls for war crimes investigations, saying no civilians were killed by its security forces.

With support from China and Russia, it has managed to stave off a UN Security Council debate on the issue.

"Coming to grips with the past is difficult," the UN statement said.

"Sweeping it under the rug could be a tempting shortcut, but it can have a high price at a later time," the statement added.

The UN statement said reconciliation was important for the island's future.

"The UN has dealt with the aftermath of many conflicts around the world, and has learnt that moving forward and building peace sometimes requires finding a way to address issues of accountability," the UN statement said.

The UN has said up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first few months of this year when security forces escalated their offensive against the remnants of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

At a press conference just before leaving the island, Pascoe expressed "strong concerns" over Sri Lanka's war refugees and said the government had been slow to resettle tens of thousands of displaced civilians.

"We have not seen the progress we expected from that agreement," he said of a deal between Colombo and Ban in May, just after the government declared the decades-long separatist war was over.

The agreement was for the speedy resettlement of 300,000 internally displaced people who were driven out of their homes after the end of fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

"Clearly, the government is making a lot of effort, but we have some strong concerns -- particularly the 'closed' nature of the camps," Pascoe told reporters after touring camps where ethnic Tamil civilians are held in what rights groups say are prison-like conditions.

"We picked up great frustrations. I was told by many that they just wanted to go home," Pascoe added. "I urged the government to allow people who were screened to be allowed to leave."


Related Links:
UN calls for Sri Lanka probe into rights abuse charges - Lanka Business Online

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