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Angry Lanka could deny visa to UN probe panel

Sri Lanka has lashed out at the United Nations secretary general’s rare decision to appoint a three-member panel to look into alleged war crimes committed in Sri Lanka as the 26-year-old civil unrest came to an end in May last year.

world Updated: Jun 23, 2010 18:45 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Sri Lanka has lashed out at the United Nations secretary general’s rare decision to appoint a three-member panel to look into alleged war crimes committed in Sri Lanka as the 26-year-old civil unrest came to an end in May last year.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman, South African Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner from the US to ``advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.’’

The civil war between government troops and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels ended on May 18, 2009 amid allegations of a huge number of civilian casualties.

``It will look into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka,’’ the UN said in a statement.

The reaction from the Lankan government – which has denied targeting civilians – was immediate and angry.

``Sri Lanka regards the appointment of the Sri Lanka Panel of Experts as an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement, adding: ``this interference, moreover, has potential for exploitation by vested interests hostile to the process of reconciliation taking place in Sri Lanka."

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a "Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation" in May to look into the last seven years of the war.

``For the UN to have a parallel probe is to pre-judge and undermine a process that Sri Lanka has begun as part of its national reconciliation and establishing lasting peace," Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said in a statement

The recommendations of the panel, expected to be submitted to Ban Ki-moon in four months, will not be binding as the issue of rights violation in Sri Lanka was not made part of the UN Security Council’s agenda.

Also, the panel is likely to have a tough job carrying out investigations on ground as the government might deny the members visa to enter Sri Lanka.

According to Reuters, the panel's chair, Darusman, has previous experience with Sri Lanka. He served on a panel of international monitors observing the work of a Sri Lankan commission that investigated a series of major human rights violations. The observers quit, saying the commission did not meet international standards and had been interfered with politically.