UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A panel of experts set up to advise U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on possible war crimes at the end of Sri Lanka's war against Tamil Tiger rebels delivered its report to him on Tuesday, the United Nations said.
The report by the panel, whose appointment was strongly criticized by the Colombo government, was not immediately made public. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said it was first being given to Sri Lanka and would be published fairly soon.
Government forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009 after a quarter-century conflict that killed thousands of people. The end of the war displaced large numbers of people in the north of the island state.
Sri Lanka's government denies any war crimes were committed but human rights groups say both the government and the Tigers, who were seeking to set up a separate Tamil state, were guilty of rights violations.
The three-member U.N. panel was set up soon after Ban visited Sri Lanka shortly after the end of the conflict. Colombo blasted it as "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation."
Sri Lanka set up its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which human rights groups have said lacks credibility and impartiality. The commission is due to report to the Sri Lankan government next month.
A Sri Lankan government spokesman said last December the U.N. panel "will be given visas only to testify before the LLRC if they request (that) and not for any investigations." U.N. officials said they understood that because of that restriction the U.N. panel had not visited Sri Lanka.
In a statement on Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that almost two years after the war, Sri Lanka had "taken no steps to hold anyone on either side of the conflict accountable for serious violations of international law."
The U.N. group's official mandate called on it to examine "the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes" relating to the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Haq said Ban "will study the report carefully and will determine his next steps in the coming days."
The panel is led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman. The other two members are South African human rights expert Yasmin Sooka and U.S. lawyer Steven Ratner. They began their work last September.
Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, praised Ban's decision to make the report public, a move he said "will help move justice forward in Sri Lanka."
(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Bill Trott)