(Adds desciption in 12th paragraph of scene featuring
Prabhakaran's son; in paragraph 13 replaces quote that pertained
to another scene in film)
* Documentary has first public viewing in Geneva
* Sri Lanka government sought to halt screening
* Film depicts horrific scenes from 'No Fire Zone'
* Filmmaker Macrae says it is a "call to action"
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 1 (Reuters) - A documentary purporting to show
the execution of civilians and other war crimes committed by the
Sri Lankan army had its first public screening on Friday but was
swiftly rejected by the government as part of an "orchestrated
campaign" against it.
The documentary "No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri
Lanka" is the third by British journalist and director Callum
Macrae about the final stages of the nearly 30-year civil war.
"We see it as a film of record, but also a call to action,"
Macrae told a news briefing. "All of it is genuine. It is
evidence of war crimes and I have to warn you it is pretty
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in 2009 in the
final months the war, a U.N. panel has said, as government
troops advanced on the ever-shrinking northern tip of the island
controlled by Tamil rebels fighting for an independent homeland.
The film depicts terrifying scenes from the territory held
by the Tamil Tiger rebels just before their defeat in May 2009.
In the so-called "No Fire Zone" declared by the army, rights
groups say soldiers killed thousands of Tamil civilians by heavy
shelling and massacres yet perpetrators have gone unpunished.
"The Tigers are guilty of war crimes, guilty of using child
soldiers and preventing civilians from leaving, so they are
complicit in some ways in what happened," Macrae told reporters.
Sri Lanka's government this week formally protested against
the film's screening on U.N. premises on the sidelines of the
Human Rights Council. The event, organised by activist groups
seeking an international inquiry into atrocities by both sides,
was allowed to proceed.
"By providing a platform for the screening of this film
which includes footage of dubious origin, content that is
distorted and without proper sourcing and making unsubstantiated
allegations, the sponsors of this event seek to tarnish the
image of Sri Lanka," Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka's ambassador
to the United Nations in Geneva, told the audience on Friday.
Aryasinha - who did not attend the viewing but entered just
after the 90-minute film ended - said: "It will take a few days,
possibly weeks, before experts in the field would be able to
ascertain the true facts about the contents of this film."
Colombo considered the film as "part of a cynical, concerted
and orchestrated campaign that is strategically driven and aimed
at influencing debate in the council on Sri Lanka," he said.
Some footage of troops executing naked and blindfolded
prisoners are from "trophy videos" taken by government soldiers
on mobile phones, according to Macrae, whose two previous films
on Sri Lanka's civil war were broadcast by Britain's Channel 4.
Balachandran Prabhakaran, a 12-year-old son of the slain
Tamil Tiger founder Velupillai Prabhakaran, is shown in a series
of photographs in the last hours of his short life. He is first
shown eating a biscuit while held captive by soldiers, then shot
dead along with other men presumed to be his bodyguards.
"There were five gunshot wounds indicating the distance of
the muzzle of the weapon to the boy's chest was two or three
feet or less. This is a homicide, murder, there's no doubt,"
forensic pathologist Derrick Pounder says in the film.
Rights groups and a member of a U.N. expert panel set up by
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the footage corresponded
to evidence they had gathered from the conflict.
The panel, whose findings have been rejected by the Sri
Lankan government, said the army committed large-scale abuses
and that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the last
months of the conflict.
"I believe that most of the footage in the film can be
corroborated. In fact in our report you find references to many
things you see in the documentary," Yasmin Sooka, a member of
Ban's panel, told Reuters after attending the screening.
Julie de Rivero, director of the Geneva office of Human
Rights Watch, one of the organisers, said: "The Human Rights
Council cannot continue to ignore the call for an independent
international investigation into war crimes that were committed.
"All our investigations corroborate what is shown in this
film, that civilians were indiscriminately targeted, that
thousands and thousands and thousands of them died unjustly."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Rosalind Russell
and Kevin Liffey)