War

Why now, Sri Lankans ask after U.N. war crimes report

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2011 1:03 PM
Why now, Sri Lankans ask after U.N. war crimes report

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A U.N. report alleging tens of thousands of civilians were killed and war crimes committed at the end Sri Lanka's war in 2009 drew widespread political reaction on Tuesday, but left many ordinary Sri Lankans bemused at what purpose an investigation would serve.

The U.N. panel found "credible allegations" of civilian deaths, which it blamed mostly on the government, and urged the prosecution of those responsible for violations in the last stage of a quarter-century war with ethnic Tamil separatists.

Excerpts of the findings of an advisory panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have been leaked to Sri Lankan newspapers, and new excerpts have been published daily.

"Everybody knew what happened, so what's the point of punishing now?" asked Prithika Shanmugam, a 27-year-old Tamil.

"But we should make sure that those kinds of violations will not happen in future. Now there is no war, so no need to suppress Tamils and abductions and killings should stop. There should be democracy for all," she said.

In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris again rejected the report as flawed.

"The charges are unsubstantiated," Peiris told a news conference also attended by his Bangladesh counterpart Dipu Moni. "The evidences are weak and not appropriate."

The panel looked at events in the last months of the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, who fought for nearly 30 years to create a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

The Sri Lankan military crushed the LTTE and killed its entire leadership on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the northeastern shore in May 2009, amid Western calls for a ceasefire to protect civilians held as shields by the Tigers.

The government, which did not allow the panel to visit Sri Lanka while preparing the report, says the findings are taken primarily from rights groups and members of the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora, both of which it accuses of having axes to grind.

"UN INTERFERENCE" DECRIED

In New York, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the United Nations "certainly regretted the leaking of this report ... we've already made clear our dismay at that." He told reporters the world body would formally publish the report later this week after Ban and his advisers had finished reviewing it.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, with Chinese and Russian support at the U.N. Security Council, has remained defiant, and insists that it minimized civilian casualties.

The government rebuffed Western wartime criticism of its tactics as hypocritical, arguing the United States and others did the same against groups they put on terrorist lists and, therefore, Sri Lanka should have the same sovereign right.

The United Nations, the United States and 30 other countries put the LTTE on terrorism lists for its use of suicide bombings and forced conscription of child soldiers.

"We fought against the most ruthless terrorists in the world. The international community and the U.N. should know about it. Even if the government violated the human rights, that is to protect lives and protect human rights," said Gagana Dissanayake, a 35-year-old executive.

The Tamil National Alliance, the one-time political proxy of the LTTE, said the report presented an opportunity to find "an acceptable and reasonable political solution to address the root causes of the ethno-national conflict in the country."

Rajapaksa and the TNA have been in halting discussions on greater Tamil inclusion in politics that have yielded little.

"We therefore urge the government of Sri Lanka not to miss this opportunity and to constructively engage in a process which would result in all the peoples of Sri Lanka being the beneficiaries of genuine democracy, equality and justice," TNA leader R. Sampanthan said in a statement.

The main opposition, the United National Party, plans to study the full report before making any comment, deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya told Reuters.

The Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party, a former Rajapaksa ally that strongly backed the war, blamed the government for failing to use diplomacy to avert U.N. action.

"President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also responsible as his undemocratic, stubborn and suppressive governance which paved the way for the U.N. Secretary General to interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka," the JVP said in a statement.

(Additional reporting in Dhaka by Nizam Ahmed; Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Paul Simao)