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Britain to support call for investigation into Sri Lanka war deaths

Oct 20, 2010, 00:09 Digg this story!

Internal refugees in Sri Lanka after the war 

  • Internal refugees in Sri Lanka after the war Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
Rhys Blakely Mumbai
Last updated October 19 2010 12:01AM
Britain will add its weight to calls for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan troops against Tamil civilians and rebels when William Hague meets the country’s foreign minister tomorrow.
The Foreign Secretary’s talks with Gamini Lakshman Peiris will be the first high-level meeting between Sri Lanka and Britain’s coalition Government. It will take place in London after new photographs of alleged battlefield executions by Sri Lankan troops — said to have been committed in the final phase of the brutal 26-year civil war that ended last year — were circulated by pro-Tamil activists yesterday.
The pictures were reportedly taken on May 18 and May 19, 2009, as the army was defeating the final remaining fighters of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eealam, the separatist group also known as the Tamil Tigers.
The images appear to show dozens of dead men and women, many of whom appear to have been shot in the head.
One photograph depicts a pile of naked corpses loaded on a flat-bed truck while other bodies are seen in shallow graves. Some have their hands bound behind their backs.
S.J. Emmanuel, the President of Global Tamil Forum, said: “We do not know the authenticity of [the new] photographs. However this makes the case stronger for an impartial independent international investigation.
“Many in our community do not know what happened to their loved ones and whether they are still living in custody or not.”
The photographs add to a large volume of evidence suggesting potential war crimes, which human rights groups say the Sri Lankan Government is refusing to investigate.
The evidence includes video of alleged battlefield executions which Sri Lankan officials have dismissed as fake, but which an investigation by The Times showed depicted real deaths – a conclusion echoed by the UN.
General Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the army, alleged last year that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the former Defence Minister and a brother of the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had ordered that surrendering Tiger leaders should be killed rather than taken prisoner.
General Fonseka was recently sent to prison for 30 months after a court martial that bolstered fears that political dissent was being crushed.
Sri Lanka has denied visas to the three members of an investigatory panel appointed by Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, to look into allegations of attrocities during the war.
Mr Hague is said to be keen to dispel speculation that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be less strident in calling for an investigation – a demand already made by the EU – during his tenure.
“There appears to be some optimism on the Sri Lankan side that there will be a softening of the British line under the current administration. That’s not going to be the case,” one diplomatic source said.
Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International, refused last week to testify before Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the government body created to investigate the war.
The Commission is manned by people who were senior government officials during the final years of the conflict, the activists say, and there are no provisions to protect witnesses who accuse the Army of human rights abuses.
Bandula Jayasekera, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, told The Times that all evidence of alleged war crimes was forged and claimed that Amnesty International had sought to prolong Sri Lanka’s civil war. “They didn’t want it to end. This is where they got their funds from.”
A British Foreign Office spokesman said that “a credible, independent and transparent investigation into allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law” was needed. Otherwise, such allegations would “haunt the country for many years to come,” he said.


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