Sri Lanka urges UN to delay war crimes probe
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Sri Lanka Wednesday urged the UN to delay a report into alleged war crimes during the island’s civil war to allow the new government to complete its own probe.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera made the appeal in Washington on the eve of talks with top US diplomat John Kerry at the State Department.
It is his first visit to the United States since the surprise victory in January’s presidential election of Maithripala Sirisena, whose new government has been welcomed as the possible start of a new era for the Indian Ocean island.
Sirisena defeated long-time strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who fell out with the West over allegations of wartime rights abuses by the military, but had enjoyed huge support among majority Sinhalese voters after overseeing the end of a separatist war by ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009.
But critics said he failed to bring about reconciliation in the years that followed his crushing victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
Rajapakse had also refused to cooperate with the UN-mandated investigation into allegations that government forces killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while defeating the separatists in 2009.
The UN estimates at least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1972 and 2009.
The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights is due to publish its findings in March.
But Samaraweera pleaded that "we are in the process of trying to set up this internal domestic mechanism" denying the call for a postponement of the report was merely an attempt to buy time.
"We are hoping they could hold on to it until our mechanism is in place," he told a US think tank, saying the domestic probe would be up and running in about two months.
"Once the report is finalized, we are hoping they can refer it to our domestic mechanism for action," he said.
"Unlike the previous government we are not in a state of denial, saying that such violations have not happened. We believe such violations have happened," he insisted at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Earlier this month President Sirisena vowed to end Sri Lanka’s pariah status by working with the UN and promised national reconciliation, six years after the island’s ethnic war ended.
"We are ready to ensure that those who have violated human rights in Sri Lanka will be brought to justice through such a mechanism. But to ensure that it is done in a credible manner we are also looking at technical assistance from the international community," Foreign Minister Samaraweera said.