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Sri Lanka Denies War-Crimes Accusations

[Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 05:00 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister has rejected charges by three human-rights groups that the government committed war crimes last year in the closing months of its three-decade war against Tamil separatists.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon early last week and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday, following calls by the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for an international investigation into the war-crimes accusations.

A year after Sri Lanka told Mr. Ban it would investigate accusations of war crimes made in March 2009 by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the government has appointed an eight-member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to look into the allegations.

"I think this commission holds promise and we hope and expect that it will fulfill that promise," Mrs. Clinton said after meeting Mr. Peiris. "We expect that the mandate will enable them to fully investigate serious allegations of violations."

Mr. Ban hasn’t commented on the three groups’ call for an investigation, but said three months ago that he plans to appoint a panel to advise him on the Sri Lankan commission’s work. The secretary-general has yet to name any members to that panel.

To defeat the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan government revved up a war machine to match the ruthlessness of its foe. The Tigers themselves corraled thousands of Tamils to shield their retreat. The war ended last May, when the Sri Lankan army killed the Tigers’ top leadership.

Human Rights Watch has more than 200 photographs, some of which appear to show the summary execution of a Tamil Tiger and others an apparent rape of Tamil women fighters, said Elaine Pearson, the group’s deputy Asia director.

The International Crisis Group accused Sri Lankan security forces of herding Tamil civilians into "no-fire zones" set up by the government and then deliberately firing on them, killing "tens of thousands." The ICG also said the Sri Lankan government deliberately attacked Tamil hospitals and lied about the numbers of displaced people to minimize the relief effort.

"It is very clear that these are attempts to achieve certain ends which cannot be accomplished through the normal channels of the U.N. system," Mr. Peiris said of the accusations by the rights groups. "If these people want to act they can go to the Security Council, they can go to the General Assembly."

Mr. Peiris said the ICG failed to present any evidence. "There is a lot of cloak-and-dagger stuff in here," he said.

"We think the [Lessons Learnt] commission must be given an opportunity to carry out its mandate," Mr. Peiris added.

"The reason we haven’t put the evidence into the public realm is because the Sri Lankan government has a long record of ‘disappearing’ its critics," said Bob Templer, Asia program director for the ICG. "It would have been a death sentence."

[Full Coverage]

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