US calls for investigation into Sri Lankan war crimes

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US Congressman Steve Driehaus (Democrat-Ohio), a senior member of the United States National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, in a letter to US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has asked her to ‘urge the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to conduct an investigation into reported human rights violations,’ in Sri Lanka.

TamilNet reports that the Congressman points out in the letter that ‘the pain associated with this (Sri Lanka’s) conflict was further exacerbated as a result of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed during the final phase of the Sri Lanka’s civil war’.

Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G L Peiris is expected to visit the US this week, and his visit and his meeting with State Department officials are widely believed to be on accountability issues of Sri Lanka’s war crimes.

Driehaus said in his letter: ‘One year ago, 25 of my colleagues and I wrote to you expressing our concerns with the Government of Sri Lanka’s poor treatment of internally displaced persons as a result of the government’s then ongoing effort to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. Unfortunately, poor treatment of IDPs (internally displaced persons) was only one of the grave human rights violations committed at the end of the war.

‘The Government of Sri Lanka has delayed its investigation into the occurrence of these human rights violations, thus leaving the accountability for those actions in question,’ the Congressman said.

He added that he urges Clinton’s assistance in influencing Secretary General Moon to conduct an investigation into the violations.

The Congressman also noted in the letter that while UN estimates that at least 7,000 civilians in theno-fire zones were killed, ‘other estimates have reported that the number of deaths exceed 30,000 men, women and children.’

On May 10, the US’s UN Ambassador Dr Rice, said that she welcomed Colombo’s appointment of a commission to investigate the crimes.

However, a senior UN official, pointed out that ‘(Sri Lanka’s) own commission will be a sham’ and commended Dr Rice for attaching the following conditions:

‘ . . . to be effective in advancing accountability and reconciliation, commission members should be and be perceived as independent, impartial and competent; their mandate should enable them fully to investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations; commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection; the commission must receive adequate resources to carry out its mandate; and the Government should undertake to give serious consideration to its recommendations.’ He added that Colombo will never be able to meet these conditions.

• Sri Lanka Army (SLA) officials in Menik Farm Camp in Vavuniyaa on Saturday did not permit a group of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians to visit the said detention centre and see the Vanni civilians held. The SLA officials insisted on prior permission from Ministry of Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapakse and stood firm in their decision though the MPs tried to argue their way into the centre.

The group of TNA parliamentarians are on a mission of seeing the places in Vanni where the uprooted civilians have been allowed to resettle, and those still held in the detention centres in Vavuniyaa.

The parliamentarians, on being refused permission to enter Menik Farm Camp, proceeded from there to Mannaar district to meet the resettled people and find out about their living conditions. They met the resettled people in various places in the districts of Mullaiththeevu district on Friday and reported about the hardships they undergo.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka government is accelerating its plans to colonise the Ma’nalaa’ru area in Vanni with Sinhalese people and also to bring back the Sinhalese people who had been earlier brought to this area as colonists, some government officers who had visited Ma’nalaa’ru area said.

Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and other demining organisations are now at work in the above Ma’nalaa’ru area which includes Janakapura, Parakrampura and the traditional Tamil village Othiyamalai. The government has no plans to resettle the ancient Tamil inhabitants of Othiyamalai, the officers said.

The demining of Ma’nalaa’ru is expected to be completed within the next six months.

In the first stage of Sinhalese colonisation in Ma’nalaa’ru, the Sinhalese colonists who left Ma’nalaa’ru are to be resettled according to government plans.

During the war between the Liberation Tigers and the Sri Lanka government the Sinhalese colonisation in Ma’nalaa’ru had been hindered while the Sinhalese colonists brought earlier had left the area.

It has been learnt, according to Sri Lanka Army (SLA) sources, that the SLA has begun collecting the particulars of the Sinhalese colonists who had left Ma’nalaa’ru with the aim of bringing them back to Ma’nalaa’ru and providing them with basic facilities and other such assistance.

By an extraordinary gazette notification dated April 16 1988, Manal Aru area in the Mullaitivu and Vavunia Districts was renamed Weli Oya in Sinhala. By the same gazette notification Weli Oya was proclaimed the 26th District of Sri Lanka and for administrative purpose brought under the jurisdiction of the Government Agent, Anuradhapura. However, for election purpose it was included in the Vavuniya Electoral District.

It was also declared that Weli Oya area had been included under the Rapid Mahaweli Development Scheme under the Ministry of Lands and Land Development.

Mine/UXO removal operations are conducted by the Sri Lanka Army – Humanitarian Demining Unit, a Sri Lankan NGO – the Milinda Moragoda Institute for People’s Empowerment; and six INGO demining organisations: The Danish Demining Group (DDG), The HALO Trust, HORIZON, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Sarvatra, and the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD).