UN human rights chief invited to Sri Lanka: Foreign ministry

COLOMBO (AFP) - The United Nations (UN) human rights chief has been invited to Sri Lanka in August, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, months after Colombo reacted angrily to her request for a war crimes probe.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has been invited to the country as part of Colombo's "continued, transparent and proactive engagement" with the United Nations, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We believe that the visit would enable the High Commissioner to experience at first hand the significant strides made and also efforts presently underway in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka," the ministry said.

Ms Pillay's office in Geneva confirmed she would visit Sri Lanka from August 25 to 31, but gave no further details.

A UN report released in February said Colombo had failed to honour a commitment to probe rights abuses and allegations that thousands of civilians were killed in the final stages of its ethnic war that ended in 2009.

The report commissioned by Ms Pillay said investigations by Sri Lankan authorities were inconclusive, and were not independent, impartial or transparent.

Sri Lanka's state-run media responded by vilifying Ms Pillay and called for President Mahinda Rajapakse's government to sever ties with the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The council had also angered Colombo when it adopted a US-initiated censure motion in March, the second in a year urging Sri Lanka to investigate alleged war crimes in the final battle against Tamil Tiger separatists.

The apparent U-turn by the government in inviting Ms Pillay to the country comes ahead of a controversial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be hosted by Colombo in November.

Both Britain and Australia have warned Sri Lanka it must improve its rights record ahead of the summit and Canada has said allowing Colombo to be the host was like "accommodating evil".

UN figures show that up to 100,000 people were killed between 1972 and May 2009, when security forces declared victory over separatists who had fought for independence for minority Tamils in the Sinhalese-majority state.

The bloody finale to the ethnic conflict drew international condemnation and sparked allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by security forces in the last months of fighting, a charge Sri Lanka denies.