Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UN asks Sri Lanka to answer new war crime charges

The United Nations has asked Sri Lanka to explain allegations by a former army general that surrendering Tamil rebel leaders were killed in cold blood in mid-May, the government said on Monday.

The presidency in Colombo said the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, sought explanations on what had happened to three rebel leaders and their families who wanted to surrender.

"The government is making a careful study of the UN Rapporteur?s letter, prior to a formal response, and any action that may be necessary," the president's office said in a statement.

Two weeks ago, former army chief Sarath Fonseka said that he had been informed by a state media reporter that the defence minister, who is also the president's brother, had wanted all surrendering rebels wiped out.

Sri Lanka recently staved off attempts by Western nations to launch a UN war crimes probe into the country's 37-year ethnic conflict that ended in May when the leaders of the Tamil Tiger rebels were killed in a major offensive.

A Russian and Chinese veto at the UN torpedoed attempts to launch an investigation, but the new allegations could strengthen the case to bring Colombo before a tribunal.

The UN estimates that up to 7,000 civilians died in the final stages of the war. This figure is disputed by the government.

Alston said in his letter, a copy of which was released by the president's office, that he wanted clarifications to keep the UN Human Rights Council informed.

The government has accused Fonseka, who was in charge of the army during the final stages of the war, of "betraying" the country and making the statement for political reasons ahead of presidential elections on January 26.

Fonseka, 59, is challenging his former boss, President Mahinda Rajapakse, 64, who is seeking re-election. Fonseka has agreed to face any investigation, while Rajapakse insists he will not allow any war crimes probe.

On May 19, Sri Lankan authorities showed on television the body of Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, a day after claiming that he was killed in a gunbattle along with a dozen other senior military cadres.

Three Tiger political wing leaders who were arranging his surrender were shot dead on May 17. The government at the time said they may have been killed by the guerrillas themselves.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, had been in telephone contact with a number of guerrillas to arrange their surrender, according to diplomats.

The government had assured Nambiar that surrendering rebels would be safe.

Fonseka said he had learnt only after the war that senior Tiger rebels had used foreign mediators to organise a plan in which they would carry white flags and give themselves up.

The UN estimates that up to 100,000 people were killed in the civil war which began in 1972 when the Tamil Tigers first took up arms.


Related Links:
UN questions government on Fonseka’s allegations - Daily Mirror

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