Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sri Lanka rejects U.N. war crimes report, calls it unofficial

C. Bryson Hull and Ranga Sirilal | Reuters

Sri Lanka Tuesday rejected as baseless a report commissioned by the U.N. chief blaming it for thousands of civilian deaths at end of its civil war, and said is has the evidence to defend itself should the world body formally take up the accusations.

Monday, the United Nations published the findings of a three-member panel U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed to advise him on "issues of accountability" from the end of Sri Lanka's quarter-century war with the separatist Tamil Tigers.

The panel, which did not have an investigatory mandate, blamed the victorious Sri Lankan forces for killing tens of thousands of civilians, and said there is "credible evidence" that war crimes were committed by both sides.

Ban nonetheless said he could not order an international probe, which the Indian Ocean nation has refused as a violation of its sovereignty, without Sri Lanka's consent or a decision from member states to push it ahead.

"We don't consider this report an official U.N. report. It is a personal report. We totally reject it. If officially asked by the U.N. Security Council or any of the U.N. bodies, the government has enough evidence and material to provide," said Lakshman Hulugalle, director-general of the state's Media Centre for National Security.

Sri Lanka's government since last week has repeatedly called the report fraudulent and biased, after parts of it were leaked in local newspapers. It also said the world body was seeking to pre-empt the findings of its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission.

The foreign ministry had no immediate comment. Last week, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris said the government would comment on the contents after the report was made public.

The report represents the biggest pressure brought to bear on the government since the end of the war, when Western governments pushed in vain for a cease-fire to protect civilians.

The government refused on the grounds that the Tigers had created civilian crises in the past to build international pressure for truces, which it then used to re-arm.

Probe seen unlikely

Sri Lanka has consistently denied allegations that it targeted civilians. It has acknowledged that some were killed as troops advanced on an ever-shrinking patch of land on the northeastern coast of the island.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has urged supporters to rally on May Day against the report and its findings, which the government says are taken from biased accusations made by rights groups and pro-Tiger members of the Tamil diaspora.

Because Sri Lanka is not a member of the International Criminal Court, the U.N. Security Council would have to vote to ask the Hague-based court to probe war crimes, since the government will not permit an investigation.

Russia and China, which both have veto power on the council, and India are opposed to formal Security Council involvement in Sri Lanka, diplomats told Reuters. Practically, that means there is little chance of an international investigation.

Many ordinary Sri Lankans are bemused at the push to investigate war crimes, now that the country is enjoying its first peace in almost 30 years.

"Who did what war crimes and at what time to me are side games quite frankly," a Western diplomat serving in Colombo told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Sri Lanka's 40-year history of state-sponsored rights violations, borne of the separatist war and 1971 and 1988-89 Marxist insurgencies that were put down at the cost of more than 100,000 lives, is what needs to be addressed, the diplomat said.

"What's more important is that there is a national discussion about these issues, and the president has the perfect opportunity, with clear skies for the next five years until he has another election," the diplomat said.

© Yahoo! News

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