US urges Sri Lanka to probe war crimes, 'seek truth'

COLOMBO (AFP) - The United States called on Sunday for Sri Lanka to investigate rights abuses by security forces after a top envoy completed a fact-finding mission to the island, the US embassy in Colombo said.

US State Department war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp "listened to eyewitness accounts about serious human rights abuses" during his five-day mission to the island that ended on Saturday, the embassy said.

"During ambassador Rapp's discussions, he listened to eyewitness accounts about serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including those that occurred at the end of the war," the embassy said in a statement.

"In that context the government of the US encourages the government of Sri Lanka to seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions," it said.

During the visit, the embassy sparked fury within the Sri Lankan government by tweeting that army shelling killed hundreds of families in January 2009, the final stages of Sri Lanka's war against Tamil rebels.

A senior Sri Lankan foreign ministry official said the comments were discussed when Rapp called on Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris on Friday but neither side gave details of the meeting.

Sri Lanka has denied charges that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by the army during the final push that crushed Tamil rebels.

The foreign ministry official said Colombo believed the US comments were aimed at laying the ground for renewed condemnation of Sri Lanka at the March UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva.

The UNHRC is due to discuss two previous US-initiated censure motions against Colombo over alleged violations of international humanitarian law.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron warned during a Commonwealth summit in Colombo in November that he would push for an international probe against Sri Lanka unless President Mahinda Rajapakse's government investigated the charges.

Sri Lanka maintains not a single civilian was killed by its troops.

The UN estimates the conflict for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the Sinhalese-majority nation cost at least 100,000 lives.

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