Sri Lanka seeks UN reprieve over war crimes probe

ECONOMYNEXT – President Maithripala Sirisena will make fresh proposals to the United Nations seeking a reprieve from war crimes allegations, including accusations that troops killed 40,000 Tamil civilians during the final stage of the separatist war.

The President told heads of media organisations and editors in Colombo Friday that he will ask the UN General Assembly to allow Sri Lanka to "amicably resolve" war crime allegations against the security forces who fought a 37-year conflict against Tamil separatists.

He said he will unveil a raft of proposals before the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25 and make written submissions to the Human Rights Council in Geneva for its consideration at the next sessions in March 2019.

"I will also make a written request to the Human Rights Council to settle the allegations against our troops," Sirisena said. "I want to tell them to remove these charges. We can amicably resolve this issue."

The president said he expected "concessions" in implementing the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution which Sri Lanka co-sponsored.

The resolution calls for a credible independent investigation in to allegations of rights abuses said to have been committed by both government forces as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The UN has also been highly critical of the LTTE for using child soldiers, using civilians as human shields, deploying suicide bombers and targeting civilians. Any move to drop investigations will also leave the Tamil Tigers off the hook.

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Former president Mahinda Rajapakse crushed the Tamil Tigers in a no-holds-barred military campaign that ended in May 2009. He also insisted that forces under his command did not kill a single civilian and refused to accept any investigation.

Unlike Rajapaksa, Sirisena has pledged to ensure accountability for wartime atrocities, but subjecting army to scrutiny in the majority-Sinhalese country has proved controversial.

Sirisena had acknowledged there may have been excesses and had promised to set up an accountability mechanism. He is yet to deliver on the pledge however.

Last year, Sirisena sought and received a two-year extension of a deadline to implement the 2015 resolution. The new deadline expires in March next year, but it is not clear what action the rights body could take if Sri Lanka fails to comply.

At least 100,000 people were killed during the separatist war between government forces and rebels from the Tamil Tigers group, with atrocities recorded by both sides.

Although there has been no investigation of the military, Sirisena has set up an Office of Missing Persons to trace more than 20,000 people still missing. (COLOMBO, September 15, 2018)