A section of Sri Lankan troops in the UN Peace Keeping Force in Haiti, who were sent back to their country last week following allegations of sexual misconduct, were not accused of rape, as generally assumed here. The allegation was that they had used the services of sex workers, some of whom were minors, The Island daily revealed on Tuesday.
Confirming this, a top Sri Lankan official told Hindustan Times that the allegation was that a section of the troops had "Transactional
Contacts", which was but another way of saying that they had secured sexual services in return for money.
"Transactional contact is barred only in the UN code. For example, it is not mentioned in the Sri Lankan, Indian or the Australian penal
code," the official, who knows international law, said.
"The UN has a very strict code. However, there is no charge as such. There are only allegations, which are being investigated," he added.
But having been asked to go back by the UN after preliminary investigations, the 108 men allegedly involved in such misdemeanors,
were brought back to Sri Lanka. The men were part of the 950-man Sri Lankan contingent in the UN force in Haiti. Sri Lanka had sent in its contingent in 2004.
The Colombo Post, a weekly, on Tuesday quoted the Sri Lankan Army's Director of Operations, Brig Udaya Perera, as saying that an "impartial" inquiry conducted by a joint Sri Lankan Army-UN team in Haiti had found only six soldiers guilty, two of sexual misconduct and four of lying to the court.
"However, after our investigations, the UN had shown pictures of the entire battalion to the civilians and they had pointed out 108
soldiers. Most of them look alike, and we wonder how the civilians could point out 108 soldiers just like that," Brig Perera said.
"There was a certain animosity between the troops and the civilians lately because we had stopped giving our excess food to them, and that too on the request of the United Nations. The rapport between the troops and the civilians slipped to a low level due to that," Perera explained.
Bid to demoralize army
The Colombo Post quoted un-named Sri Lankan army officials as saying that it was a French NGO, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), which had complained to the UN about the Sri Lankan troops. In Sri Lanka, international NGOs are constantly accused of conspiring against the
Wimal Weerawansa, spokesman of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an ultra nationalist Sri Lankan political party, told parliament on
Monday, that the UN's action was part of a conspiracy to discredit the Sri Lankan armed forces and thwart the on-going military operations against the LTTE in North Sri Lanka.
He pointed out that the allegation of sexual misconduct had been leveled against only a few of the Sri Lankan soldiers in Haiti, but
the UN had over reacted and hastily sent back over a hundred of them.
The Sri Lankan government, however, is treating the issue with great caution. "The issue needs to be treated with great sensitivity," a top official said.
It is pointed out that the Army chief, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, had sent a team to assist the UN in its investigations immediately after the UN made the allegations. He had recalled the troops allegedly involved with immediate effect. And he is continuing the probe to get to the truth.