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Sri Lanka police break protesters’ blockade of UN

[AP, Tuesday, 6 July 2010 14:18 No Comment]

Police have broken up a blockade of the U.N. office in Sri Lanka’s capital and are escorting employees out hours after they were trapped.

Hundreds of protesters, led by the country’s housing minister and Buddhist monks, laid siege to the building Tuesday demanding end to U.N. investigations into alleged abuses committed during the country’s civil war.

Police have forcibly evicted the protesters, dismantled a stage that blocked one gate and escorted the staff vehicles off of the premises.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Hundreds of protesters, led by a government minister, laid siege to the U.N. compound in Colombo, refusing to let the workers out until the world body canceled its investigation of alleged abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The demonstrators burned effigies of United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to protest a panel he established to examine whether government forces committed atrocities against minority Tamils when the country’s quarter-century civil war drew to a close last year.

Human rights groups have accused the troops and Tamil rebels of deliberately targeting civilians and killing thousands of innocent people in the final months of the war.

The accusations have infuriated top government officials and sparked earlier violent protests outside the Red Cross compound and the British High Commission in Colombo.

As police looked on Tuesday, Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa and a group of ultranationalist Buddhist monks led men waving national flags on a march to the U.N. office. The protesters initially tried to break into the compound, which sits inside a high security zone protected by checkpoints and soldiers, but failed to breach the high walls.

Instead, they held a sit-in, blocking both exists, spray-painting the security camera at the gate — in an apparent bid not to be identified — and preventing employees working inside from leaving.

Between 125 and 200 people were trapped in the compound, according to a U.N. official inside the building who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Weerawansa demanded the world body disband the three-member investigative team appointed last month.

"Our armed forces have beaten terrorism in an exemplary manner. We will not allow our soldiers and political leaders to be taken before an international war tribunal," Weerawansa said. "We ask Ban Ki-moon to withdraw this panel if he wants to get the workers and those inside the building out."

Weerawansa said the panel could lead to unfair prosecution of soldiers and political leaders who helped defeat the Tamil rebels after a long and bloody civil war.

Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said security forces had no plans to break up the protest.

"Anyone can stage protests in a democratic country, so we will not intervene. But we are maintaining law and order and traffic control in that area," he said.

Government troops crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels last year, ending their 25-year campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. According to the U.N., more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the fighting alone.

Sri Lanka has faced growing international criticism of its wartime conduct. Rights groups have said they have photographic and video evidence of abuses and have called for a war crimes investigations.

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