Sri Lanka names general accused of war crimes as army chief

COLOMBO • A general accused of war crimes was appointed Sri Lanka army chief yesterday, even as the United States warned that his selection undermined efforts to ensure accountability after a long-running conflict with Tamil separatists.

Major-General Shavendra Silva, 55, had been elevated to the army's second-highest position - chief of staff - in January before his latest promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army.

"The President... has appointed Major-General Shavendra Silva as the 23rd commander of the army... after promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant-General," the army said in a statement.

Maj-Gen Silva, who commanded an army division in the civil war, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the final stages of the separatist conflict.

The American Embassy in Colombo said it was deeply concerned by the appointment, which was confirmed by the President's office, adding that the allegations of "gross human rights violations against him... are serious and credible".

"This appointment undermines Sri Lanka's international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount," said the embassy.

In 2009, Sri Lanka's army crushed the separatists in a no-holds-barred offensive, ending a 37-year war which had killed 100,000 people.

There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka's predominantly Tamil northern part towards the end of the conflict, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.

The UN, in a report on the allegations, said that Maj-Gen Silva had played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

Sri Lanka's successive governments have resisted calls for an independent investigation into the conduct of its troops during the final months of the conflict.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2019, with the headline 'Sri Lanka names general accused of war crimes as army chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe