Monday, November 09, 2009

France asks Sri Lanka to end emergency, probe war crimes

A top French envoy Saturday asked Sri Lanka to end its state of emergency and probe war crimes ahead of a key European Union ruling on trade concessions to the troubled island.

Ambassador for Human Rights, Francois Zimeray, said he hoped Colombo will signal the ending of its war with Tamil rebels in May by withdrawing emergency laws which allowed the detention of suspects for long periods without trial.

"Ending of the emergency (in force since 1983) should have been the first consequence of ending the war (in May)," he said at the end of three-days of talks with key Sri Lankan leaders on the island's human rights situation.

"The fact that the conflict is over should be an opportunity to put an end to emergency laws," he said referring to the draconian legislation which was also used in August to jail an editor for 20 years.

He echoed international calls to probe alleged war crimes in the final stages of the fighting and said Colombo should allow independent investigations to ensure that a culture of impunity did not persist.

His visit, which took place against the backdrop of a European Union probe into the island's human rights record, could influence the stance Paris will adopt in deciding future trade concessions to the island, he said.

His remarks came as Sri Lanka said the probe by the EU, the findings of which could cost the country lucrative trade concessions, was "politically motivated."

The EU report highlighted the slow resettlement of war-displaced people in camps and allegations of rights violations and torture during the decades-long conflict between the government and Tamil rebels.

"The government contests this (EU) position," the foreign ministry said in a 48-page response to the October report.

The ministry said the EU decision to order the investigation was "politically motivated and accompanied by a high degree of prejudice."

The EU could decide to suspend trading concessions worth over 100 million dollars given to Sri Lanka under a trade preference called GSP Plus.

Zimeray insisted that they were not imposing "western values" on Sri Lanka, but only wanted the island to implement its own laws in respect of protecting human rights and ensuring the rule of law.

The GSP Plus scheme offers tariff cuts for the country's key exports like clothes and ceramics.

The report also focused on the killing of an editor who was a prominent war critic and the 20-year jail term given to a Tamil editor accused of supporting the rebels. The report said there was an absence of media freedom.

Sri Lanka dismissed the notion of media suppression, saying journalists write freely and that reports of attacks on media personnel were being investigated.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said he hoped the EU executive would "extensively examine" Colombo's response to the report and make a positive recommendation.


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