War crimes report: Sri Lanka response 'encouraging'

UN chief hopes to see 'meaningful action' as Colombo reveals plans to conduct own probe

UNITED NATIONS • United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon said on Thursday he was "encouraged" by the Sri Lankan government's response to a damning UN report about horrific abuses during the war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr Ban's statement followed the release of a long-awaited report from the UN human rights office on Wednesday, which alleged that tens of thousands of people disappeared during the bitter conflict.

Colombo in response did not commit to the UN's key recommendation to allow international experts to assist in its domestic investigation, but pledged to punish those found guilty of war crimes during the 26-year war.

SEEKING FULL ACCOUNTABILITY

The victims of all communities, their families and the Sri Lankan nation itself demand no less than a full and proper reckoning.

MR BAN KI MOON, UN secretary-general

Mr Ban said he was "encouraged by the response of, and commitment expressed by, the government of Sri Lanka and the opposition to consult widely with all stakeholders and take meaningful action to address these issues".

He also said he hoped that the report's recommendations would support government efforts in "a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation that meets international standards".

"The victims of all communities, their families and the Sri Lankan nation itself demand no less than a full and proper reckoning," Mr Ban said.

The report identified patterns of grave violations "strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity" had been committed by both sides in the war.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said on Thursday that the government would establish its own "credible, domestic mechanism" within 18 months, to probe allegations in the UN report.

"We have a well-crafted and a sober report," he said. "It is now up to us to investigate, and ensure that justice is rolled out."

"Whoever is responsible, if proved, we will punish them without considering their rank or position," he told reporters in Colombo. "By doing that, we can protect the good name of the army."

Sri Lanka's then army chief Sarath Fonseka denied on Thursday that there had been abuses by troops under his command, but he said the government should investigate the UN's allegations.

"Army, military and the law enforcement authorities will have to face the reality (and) should be in a position to answer reasonably and clear the minds and doubts of those who are making those allegations," he told reporters.

The UN report alleged that key Tiger leaders were executed by security forces after they surrendered in the final days of the war, but General Fonseka denied this.

"According to my knowledge, such an incident did not happen," he said.

The conflict killed more than 100,000 people, and ended in 2009 with the defeat of the rebels.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2015, with the headline 'War crimes report: Sri Lanka response 'encouraging''. Print Edition | Subscribe