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UN chief: no probe into Sri Lanka mass killings

[AFP, Wednesday, 27 April 2011 21:34 No Comment]

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said he cannot order an international probe into the killing of tens of thousands of civilians during Sri Lanka’s final assault on Tamil separatists in 2009.

His remarks came after a UN panel said Monday that the Sri Lanka military killed most of the civilian victims of the offensive but that both sides may be guilty of war crimes, ordering Colombo to conduct a "genuine" inquiry.

It said both sides had carried out acts that constitute "a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace."

Ban said he lacked the authority to order an investigation but that the United Nations would probe its own actions in the war’s final months, after the panel said it could have saved lives by being tougher on Sri Lanka.

The panel’s three experts painted a barbarous picture of the final offensive on the Tamil enclave in the north of the island that ended a three-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Hospitals, UN centers and Red Cross ships were deliberately shelled by government forces, prisoners shot in the head and women raped, they said.

LTTE leaders meanwhile used 330,000 civilians as a human shield and shot those who tried to escape, they added.

"Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days," said the panel, led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darsman.

"Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling," the report added.

The UN experts said there were "credible allegations" of serious violations of international law by government forces and the LTTE, "some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."

"The government of Sri Lanka should issue a public, formal acknowledgement of its role in responsibility for extensive civilian casualties in the final stages of the war," the experts said.

They called for Sri Lanka to "end all violence by the state," conduct "genuine investigations" that meet international standards, help return the remains of the dead to families and pay reparations.

The United Nations should set up an "international mechanism" to monitor the investigation and conduct its own inquiry, the experts added.

Ban said he had been advised that Sri Lanka must agree to any international investigation or that it has to be ordered by "an appropriate intergovernmental forum."

Officials said he was referring to the UN Human Rights Council or the UN Security Council.

Sri Lanka has fought off censure at the former with the support of China and Russia, and Human Rights Watch said the two had recently thwarted discussion of Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council.

"Russia and China should stop blocking efforts to find justice for victims in Sri Lanka and support the panel?s recommendations," HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said.

The panel criticized UN agencies for not pressing Sri Lanka hard enough to end the onslaught and for not going public with the high casualty figures to put pressure on the government. Ban said he had agreed to a review.

"During the final stages of the war, the United Nations political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians," the panel said.

Sri Lanka did not immediately respond to the report, but is almost certain to oppose any further action. After parts of the report were leaked to the Sri Lankan media, the government called the work "biased" and "preposterous."

The United Nations said it had offered to let Sri Lanka publish its comments with the report, but the government had not responded.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has called for this year’s May Day rally to be turned into a demonstration against any UN investigation.

Ban "regrets the inflammatory tone of some of the recent public statements emanating from Sri Lanka," his office said a statement released with the report.

The United States has been a strong critic of Sri Lanka’s attitude since the offensive and US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed the report.

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