Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sri Lanka says UN report has pro-Tamil bias

Photo courtesy: Business Today

Radio Australia

A United Nations report has painted a brutal picture of the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The report accuses Tamil Tiger rebels of using people as human shields, and government forces of killing tens of thousands of civilians through indiscriminate shelling. Sri Lanka's government has rejected the report as biased and fraudulent. Its External Affairs minister says the UN panel assumed for itself, a quasi-judicial role and its findings "bore the ingredients of the Tamil diaspora." Sri Lanka's military has denied it deliberately targeted civilian areas. Sen Lam spoke to Lakshman Hulugalle media director-general, at Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence. Mr Hulugalle says foreign media was allowed access to cover the end of the civil war. But the Sri Lankan government has carefully controlled media access for many years and did not allow the foreign media to freely cover the last stages of the civil war.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Lakshman Hulugalle, director-general, media, Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka

HULUGALLE: This is a panel appointed by the secretary-general of the UN in his personal capacity, and this is not a UN-appointed panel, first of all. And the panel's recommendations and details - the government of Sri Lanka totally rejects. There was no shelling of civilians. Unfortunately, this panel is talking about the last two weeks of the humanitarian operation happening in Sri Lanka, but they don't talk about the thousand three hundred weeks before, (when) the terrorists gunned down innocent civilians. We were able to keep the civilian numbers very low, because the government forces were very careful on the operational side, and we were able to protect the interests of the civilians.

LAM: The report also said that hospitals, UN centres and indeed, ships belonging to the Red Cross were deliberately targeted by the Sri Lankan military. Do you refute that as well?

HULUGALLE: Yes, we totally refute, because during that time, many UN representatives came into the country, and we allowed the foreign media to go into the areas during the operational times, and there were no allegations. And all the embassies were practically all western and asian embassies were in Sri Lanka and those representatives were there. So, there was no allegation against the Sri Lanka forces of shelling or killing of civilians during the war.

LAM: The government of Sri Lanka of course, has rejected this report as "biased and fraudulent" and yet the report also criticised the Tamil Tigers - that they found that both sides were guilty of human rights abuses?

HULUGALLE: Unfortunately, this report is being biased, because before the report was produced, no responsible government officer was contacted, or done anything. This is (based) on the information that they got from various sources, but they have not mentioned the killings and the terrors, what the LTTE did for the last thirty years. Killing innocent civilians who did not carry any arms, the clergy, pregnant mothers, innocent children - all these were not in the report.

LAM: If the Sri Lankan government wanted the truth, why did it not allow the UN investigators onto the island to conduct their investigations?

HULUGALLE: No, we have already appointed a Commission and they have now interviewed more than five hundred people. This is an independent body, so we don't have to give in to a private (UN) panel. So, we have appointed a very senior official, independent official, former judiciary officials into the Committee, so they're also giving the report, so we can see whether any Tamil people have made allegations like this.

LAM: What is the Sri Lankan government's response to a thorough, international, independent investigation into these claims and counter-claims of atrocities during the last few months of the war?

HULUGALLE: Any independent body can have an investigation, but they can't force into Sri Lanka, because we are in the process of development, after three decades. We have saved the Tamil community, Tamil nation from the LTTE terrorism, and the people of this country are really enjoying the freedom, Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim, everybody's right now enjoying it. So, we don't want these independent bodies to come and harm that unity. But if there is an official request, we are prepared, because we have all the evidence and documents to prove that Sri Lanka has not killed innocent civilians.

LAM: So are you saying then, that if the United Nations makes a formal request, that Sri Lanka will allow an independent investigation to be conducted?

HULUGALLE: Yes, Sri Lanka is a member of the UN. But that's a very high level answer, I think the government of Sri Lanka will have to answer. For me to answer that question, it's too early, because the UN Security Council or nor the UN has made any request yet. So let us see where or if they make a request.

© Radio Australia

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