Sri Lanka PM seeks probe into ‘missing’ wartime gold
COLOMBO, March 9, 2016 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s prime minister on Wednesday called for a probe into the whereabouts of vast quantities of gold held by the army, years after it was recovered from the island’s former warzone.
The army seized jewellery left behind by some 300,000 minority Tamil citizens who were driven out of their homes in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s separatist war, which ended in 2009.
About half the 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of gold recovered by the military during the war is still in its hands, while some has been deposited with the central bank, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament.
But around 40 kilos were unaccounted for, he said, implying that it may have been stolen.
"There are discrepancies. There are conflicting accounts of what happened to the gold. We must investigate this," Wickremesinghe said.
He called on parliament to set up a special panel to probe the whereabouts of the missing treasure.
The military claimed it found the gold in abandoned homes or buried in back gardens in the conflict zone in the north of the island, while more was found at banks operated by Tamil separatists.
For years Tamil political parties have pressed for the army to return the jewellery to citizens.
In 2014 the military said it had identified 2,377 "legitimate claimants" but only 25 of them were given back their jewellery under the government of former president Mahinda Rajapakse.
Sri Lanka declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed after crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.
But the military campaign has also triggered allegations that some 40,000 civilians were killed by troops, a charge the government has vehemently denied.
Sri Lanka’s new government, which came to power in January 2015, has agreed to investigate alleged war crimes.