Sri Lanka leader rejects UN panel on rights abuses

Last Updated: Sat, Mar 06, 2010 13:50 hrs

Sri Lanka's president has rejected the U.N. secretary-general's plan to appoint a panel of experts to look into alleged rights abuses in the island nation's civil war, a statement from the president's office said Saturday.

In a Friday evening phone conversation with Ban Ki-moon, President Mahinda Rajapaksa described the step as "totally uncalled for and unwarranted," the statement said.

In New York, Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, confirmed the secretary-general had told Rajapaksa of his intention to form a panel of experts that would "advise him on the way forward on accountability issues related to Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka has faced growing international criticism for not examining alleged abuses committed during the war, in which tens of thousands of combatants and civilians died. The United Nations has reported that more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the final fighting against the Tamil Tigers last year as government forces closed in and crushed the rebellion.

Rights groups and some countries have called for war crime investigations. The government has been accused of firing heavy weapons into civilian areas, and the Tamil rebels accused of holding civilians as human shields and shooting those who tried to flee. Both sides have denied the allegations.

On Thursday, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay criticized Sri Lanka for failing to examine abuses committed in the war.

Rajapaksa's statement said the allegations of rights abuses were "misrepresentations" by supporters of the Tamil Tigers and private groups working against Sri Lanka.

The appointment of a U.N. panel would "certainly be perceived as an interference with the current general election campaign," the statement said, adding that Sri Lanka would take "necessary and appropriate action" — without specifying what that would be.

Rajapaksa, who won a second term as president by a big margin in Jan. 26 elections, has called parliamentary polls on April 8, hoping to further tighten his grip on power by securing a majority in the 225-member legislature.

Since his re-election, Rajapaksa's government has arrested his former army chief and rival presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka on accusations of sedition.

Before the two men fell out, Fonseka led the military in defeating the Tamil rebels, who fought for a separate state, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The U.N. says between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the war.



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