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UN sets up Sri Lanka war crimes probe

[AFP, Tuesday, 22 June 2010 17:42 No Comment]

DaOksfGlA UN chief Ban Ki-moon Tuesday set up a panel to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka, his spokesman said.

Ban launched the investigation "to advise him on the issue of accountability with regards to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka."

Spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement that the three-strong panel would be chaired by Marzuki Darusman from Indonesia, the UN’s special envoy for North Korea, and hoped to complete its work in four months.

Sri Lankan authorities have faced numerous allegations of war crimes during a final military offensive against Tamil rebels in the northeastern part of the island last year that ended the 37-year war.

Videos, photographs and satellite images presented by human rights groups as evidence of war crimes have been rejected as forgeries by Colombo.

Last week Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse denied his troops fired at a "single civilian" and dismissed calls for a war crimes probe.

"Our troops carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights’ charter in the other," he said at an anniversary victory parade attended by thousands of troops.

"Our guns were not fired at a single civilian," he added.

The government declared military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LITE) in May 2009, after the group had been fighting for an independent territory since 1972.

According to the United Nations, between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the conflict, and 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last four months of fighting.

The military has also been accused of executing surrendering rebels.

The panel, which will also include Yasmin Sooka from South Africa and Steven Ratner from the United States, "hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka," the statement added.

"The secretary-general remains convinced that accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka."

Ban’s decision follows a visit last week to Sri Lanka by the UN under secretary general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, to discuss national reconciliation and allegations of human rights violations.

The United States has also been calling for months for an independent investigation into the war crimes allegations.

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