An internal panel set up to look into the temporary ceasefire and the last years of civil war between government troops and the separatist Tamil Tigers began work on Wednesday amid questions targeting its credibility.
The eight-member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LRRC) panel is headed by a former attorney general. It will begin by recording testimonies from witnesses on five days in Colombo and for two days in Vavuniya, a town near the final theatre of battle.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa set up the LRRC in May following intense international pressure to probe human rights abuses during the war.
But the international community, including the UN, US and the EU, continue to urge an independent, international probe. Wednesday’s session began even as a group of 57 Congressmen in the US wrote a letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, pushing for an independent international probe into alleged abuse of human rights and civilian deaths as the civil war ended in May, 2009.
Colombo has already rejected calls for an international probe and expressed deep displeasure at the three-member panel set up by UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon to look into human rights accountability issues during the end of the war.
The terms of reference for the government panel focus on the Norway-brokered ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, which lasted between February, 2002 and 2008, January. The breakdown of the ceasefire led to the resumption of an all-out war, which finally ended in a crushing military defeat for the Tigers.
The LRRC has to report back to Rajapaksa in the next six months on why the ceasefire broke down and suggest ways of reconciliation so that a civil war doesn’t erupt again.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has said the panel was an attempt by Sri Lanka to deflect international calls for an independent investigation into war crimes alleged to have been committed by government troops.
One of the first witnesses, former ambassador and head of the government’s peace secretariat in 2002, Bernard Goonatilleke, said the Ceasefire Agreement was signed without any serious negotiations on the text that led to its failure.
Appearing as the first witness at the LRRC, he said that the government did not have any other option but to enter into a ceasefire agreement because of several factors such as the military loosing territory and camps including the Elephant Pass Camp, and the decline of the economic growth rate to a below zero level.