By JOHN HEILPRIN
GENEVA — Two advocacy groups asked Swiss authorities Thursday to pursue war crime charges against a former Sri Lankan army commander now serving as a European diplomat, reflecting still-simmering Western concerns about the South Asian island nations’ human rights record.
The Swiss-based groups Society for Threatened Peoples and TRIAL said they filed a confidential complaint with Switzerland’s attorney general against Jagath Dias, a former major general in Sri Lanka’s final offensive that smashed a 26-year rebellion by ethnic minority Tamils in May 2009.
The United Nations estimates between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the civil war. Dias, whose Sri Lankan forces captured some of the rebel Tamil Tigers’ last strongholds, became Sri Lanka’s deputy ambassador to Germany, Switzerland and the Vatican in September 2009.
Dias, reached at his embassy in Berlin, said it’s easy to make accusations, but he denied being a war criminal.
“Anybody can accuse anyone of anything. I don’t see that any of these allegations are well founded,” he told The Associated Press. “We did our best to complete the military operation with zero casualties. How could we have released or rescued 300,000 people if we really wanted to destroy them?”
About 300,000 Tamil civilians were caught in the climactic battle. The government then carved camps out of the jungles of northern Sri Lanka to hold them and screen out former rebels who could stir up trouble.
The Swiss groups’ complaint — based largely on the findings of the United Nations and other international organizations — says Dias’ army division was responsible for massive bombing of civilians and hospitals.