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Top UN official to press Sri Lanka for rights probe

[AFP, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 08:48 No Comment]

A top UN official was expected in Sri Lanka Wednesday to press for a probe into possible rights abuses during the final stages of the military’s victory over Tamil rebels.

UN under secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe was sent by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who has voiced concern over delays in releasing thousands of displaced Tamil civilians held in government-run camps.

Pascoe’s discussions here would focus on "the resettlement of internally displaced persons, political reconciliation and the establishment of a mechanism of accountability for alleged human rights violations in the context of the conflict," a UN statement said.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls for war crimes investigations into its crushing of the long-running Tamil separatist insurgency and managed to stave off a UN security council discussion on the issue thanks to support from China and Russia.

The UN has said that up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first few months of this year when security forces escalated their offensive against the remnants of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka denies any civilian was killed by its security forces and in turn accused the Tigers of using tens of thousands of Tamils as a human shield.

A UN spokesman here said Pascoe was expected to visit some of the internment camps for war-displaced civilians in the north of the island on Thursday and hold talks with President Mahinda Rajapakse before leaving on Friday.

Pascoe told reporters in New York on Monday that Ban was concerned about the slow implementation of commitments made to him when he visited the island after the end of the fighting in May.

Colombo had promised Ban that 80 percent of displaced people would be sent back to their homes before the end of this year.

The foreign ministry here said it welcomed Pascoe’s visit and looked forward "to the widest possible engagements" during his three-day stay.

His trip follows the expulsion of the UNICEF spokesman in Colombo, James Elder, for remarks allegedly favouring Tamil Tiger rebels.

A decisive battle ended the four-decade struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, one of Asia’s longest-running ethnic conflicts, which left between 80,000 and 100,000 people dead.

The large number of civilians killed during the final offensive triggered an international uproar and aid groups now fear for the welfare of the estimated 300,000 war-displaced Tamils held in tightly-guarded camps.

Pascoe said Ban had a telephone conversation with President Rajapakse on Monday that touched on human rights issues and accountability for rights abuses committed by both government forces and Tamil Tiger fighters.

[Full Coverage]

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