Sri Lanka’s top military commander offered on Thursday to probe “specific allegations” of war crimes during the country’s fight against Tamil Tiger separatists that ended two years ago.
Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said no civilians were killed by his forces, but he was open to investigating alleged rights abuses in the final stages of fighting.
“I am prepared to investigate allegations, specific allegations,” Jayasuriya told reporters after a three-day seminar entitled: “Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lankan Experience.”
“I don’t want to sweep anything under the rug,” he said referring to Australian counter-terrorism expert David Kilcullen’s call Tuesday for Sri Lanka’s generals to address international concerns about war crimes.
His remarks appeared to be a softening of the hard-line position of Sri Lanka which had insisted that no civilians were killed by its troops and there was no need for an investigation.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has, however, appointed a panel to probe why a 2002 truce between the government and the rebels broke down and asked it to recommend measures to prevent the island slipping back into bloodshed.
Sri Lanka hosted the seminar, co-sponsored by its main arms supplier China, to showcase its victory over the rebels after decades of ethnic conflict which according to the United Nations claimed up to 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.
Human rights groups had called for a boycott of the seminar. Out of 54 nations invited, 41 participated, army chief Jayasuriya said.
Western nations and Japan, which have all pressed Sri Lanka to probe rights abuses, stayed away.
The UN has said up to 7,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting when government forces crushed the Tamil Tiger leadership in a no-holds-barred military offensive.