Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sri Lanka's formal response to war crimes allegations

Radio Australia

The Sri Lankan government has formally conceded that civilians were killed by security forces in the final offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

The Defence ministry's report entitled "Humanitarian Operation -Factual Analysis" follows a damning Channel 4 British television documentary of government atrocities and an earlier UN report that blames both sides for crimes against humanity.

Correspondent: Kanaha Sabapathy
Speakers: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's Defence Minister; Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian Director of Human Rights Watch; Dr Jehan Perera, Director, National Peace Council

SABAPATHY: On the first anniversary of the crushing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, president Mahinda Rajapakse had insisted that not a single civilian was killed by his troops. Speaking at the victory parade in June last year he said "Our troops carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights charter in the other."

In April when the UN Advisory panel released its report saying that it had received credible evidence that both the security forces and the LTTE had committed war crimes the government rejected it claiming it could not be substantiated.

But when Britain's Channel 4 released its television documentary "Sri Lanka's killing fields" quite soon after, the government was forced to address the matter. Releasing the government's interpretation of the last days of the war on monday this is what defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to say.

RAJAPAKSA: While the LTTE's propaganda machine continues to spin its lies, and such lax standards of journalism continue to prevail in the west, the narrative on Sri Lanka may continue to be obscured by vicious falsehoods. I sincerely hope that with the publication of this document, these falsehoods will be laid to rest once and for all.

SABAPATHY: Apart from releasing its report in which it admitted that civilian deaths by security forces cannot be avoided in a war of this magnitude, the government also released a video to give context to and its interpretation of the documentary.

Dr Jehan Perera the director of the National Peace Council says while some sections of the video are questionable others hold weight.

PERERA: They highlighted what might have been behind the protests that took place. The people of Kilinochi protesting against the departure of the UN because they showed and had interviewed people who said that those people had been mobilised for the purpose of the protest by the LTTE which is entirely plausible because when the LTTE was in control of any part of the country the people who lived there had to do what they said.

SABAPATHY: Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch has also viewed the government video.

She says the government which had earlier said that the clips of atrocities conducted by the security forces were faked had used some of the same clips and overlaid Sinhalese voices with Tamil voices to put the blame on the Tamil Tigers.

GANGULY: It is almost identical video of some men being dragged, they are blind folded and their hands are tied behind their backs and they are dragged and brought forward and they are shot at the back of their head, completely execution style. Now that same footage and one has Sinhalese voices the other one has Tamil voices.

SABAPATHY: Ms Ganguly says while the government has taken a significant step forward by releasing its report, its failure to address the allegations of war crimes and its repeated contradictory statements makes it all seem like a cover-up.

GANAGULY: First there was not a single civilian killed now they admit that some civilians were killed. Now they say they did not use heavy weapons in the no fire zone except that they had previously themselves said that we have now stopped the use of heavy artillery which means they had been previously using. They are getting caught up in their own lie and their own cover-up.

SABAPATHY: Angry at the continued allegations of a government cover up of war crimes and the refusal of the issue to disappear defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa had this to say.

RAJAPAKSA: Why should a government that extended such care to families so directly linked to the LTTE and former LTTE cardres themselves be accused of mistreating civilians who suffered because of the LTTE. Yet that is the accusation levelled against Sri Lanka by parties with vested interests.

SABAPATHY: But Dr Jehan Perera says for reconciliation to happen and for the country to recover from the 3 decades of war there is a need for the real story to be told.

PERERA: If we want reconciliation then we have to go into what had happened and tell the story of what had happened to those people in the last days of the war. Who had disappeared or who have died and find out the truth and compensate the families and also try to come up with a political solution to the root of this conflict that led to this terrible war.

SABAPATHY: It's a view also shared by Ms Ganguly.

GANGULY: This is a country that now needs to find its peace and to find its peace the government needs to understand that it has to be transparent.

© Radio Australia

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