Aus under pressure to reject Sri Lankan envoy's nomination

is under pressure to reject Sri Lanka's nomination of a top military official as its next envoy in Canberra over human rights violations dating from the country's war with Tamil Tigers.
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Updated on Jan 24, 2011 01:18 PM IST
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None | By, Melbourne

Australia is under pressure to reject Sri Lanka's nomination of a top military official as its next envoy in Canberra over human rights violations dating from the country's war with Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka has picked up former navy chief Thisara Samarasinghe to fill the vacant position of high commissioner to Australia, the Age newspaper reported.

The paper said it understands the Foreign Affairs Department - which must decide on accepting the nomination -sees the appointment as "problematic" for Australia amid calls for a UN probe into human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

The issue can lead to derailing of Australia's official co-operation with Sri Lanka on immigration controls and asylum seekers fleeing the aftermath of the long-running civil war.

No specific allegation of war crimes arising from the conflict have been made against Vice-Admiral Samarasinghe, who took over as chief of the Sri Lankan Navy in July 2009 after the end of the civil war in May 2009.

However, Tamil community leaders Down Under have urged that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd reject the nomination in protest at Sri Lanka's refusal to allow an international war crimes tribunal.

Plans to send another senior military commander as Sri Lanka's envoy to Britain were reportedly scotched by Colombo after protests in London.

"It clearly shows that Sri Lanka is slowly becoming a military state," Sam Pari of Australian Tamil Congress said, adding "Their diplomatic posts are being taken over by military or former military personnel and I think that's a very, very worrying sign."

The Foreign Affairs department and the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra both refused to discuss the nomination.

Former NSW Attorney-General and Supreme Court justice John Dowd - who is collecting evidence for the International Commission of Jurists to present to an eventual war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka - said the nomination raised concerns.

"The nature of a war crime, it doesn't necessarily have to be the person who fires the shot or gives the order," he said.

"The person in charge can be responsible for a war crime and commit a war crime by not stopping it.

"It's very difficult to see how anyone in a senior command position - army, navy or air force - is not going to have a likelihood of allegations of war crimes, and indeed evidence of war crimes."

Dowd said he had recorded stories of shelling of civilians from naval vessels offshore during the war in Sri Lanka.

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