UN against amnesty for jailed Sri Lanka rebels: chief minister

Protestors from the National Freedom Front hold hold posters criticising the visit of United Nations Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, outside the UN office in Colombo.
Protestors from the National Freedom Front hold hold posters criticising the visit of United Nations Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, outside the UN office in Colombo.PHOTO: EPA

COLUMBO (AFP) - The UN rights chief has said Tamil rebels still detained years after the end of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war should not be granted universal amnesty, a top regional official said Sunday.

More than 200 suspected Tamil separatists remain in prison, many without charge, following the country's bitter 37-year-war that ended nearly seven years ago.

Tamil political and civil society groups have long demanded their unconditional release, tough the government has rejected demands for universal amnesty.

Speaking on a trip to the island nation, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said jailed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) members should clear their names in court, according to the chief minister of Sri Lanka's former war zone, CV Wigneswaran.

"He (Zeid) said it is not the common practice of the international community to give common pardon to such suspects," Wigneswaran told reporters in Jaffna, where much of the fighting took place.

"The issue should be resolved through a legal process, but they should not be granted a common amnesty." Wigneswaran's opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party has repeatedly called for the prisoners to be released unconditionally.

Zeid visited Jaffna on the second day of a four-day visit and met with several women whose relatives remain missing years after the end of the conflict that left 100,000 people dead.

His visit comes after the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution late last year calling for an investigation into wartime atrocities committed by both the government-backed military and Tamil Tiger separatists.

The aim of Zeid's trip is to gauge progress of the investigation ahead of a report to the UN rights council he is set to deliver in March.

"I have been looking forward to coming and I am looking forward to meeting both the highest officials of the state as well as representatives of all communities," Zeid said Saturday.

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena has agreed to a domestic probe into allegations that troops killed at least 40,000 ethnic Tamils.

In contrast, his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse had resisted calls for an investigation after maintaining that not a single civilian had been killed by troops under his command.

The UN report in September described horrific wartime atrocities committed by both the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels.