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Sri Lanka leader urges protests against UN report

Sri Lanka’s president has called for mass protests against a UN report which urged a probe into alleged war crimes committed during the fight against Tamil Tiger rebels, his office said Sunday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said in an address to officials of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party that this year’s May Day rally should be turned into a “show of our strength” against international calls for war crimes investigations.

“All these days we did not demonstrate our strength, but now on May Day we will show our strength,” the president said on Saturday. An audio tape of the speech was released by his office.

His remarks came after a leaked UN report called for an independent inquiry into “credible” allegations that Sri Lanka committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in its final 2009 offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rajapakse said that a section of the international community was leading a campaign against Sri Lanka and harbouring a “grudge” because he did not allow the country to be divided, as demanded by the Tamil Tigers.

He said the world had also benefited from the crushing of the rebels who had mastered the use of “suicide jackets” in their trademark bombings.

Rajapakse said allegations of war crimes, contained in a UN expert panel report, were not new but that there were increasing suggestions that those who led the military campaign should be taken before a war crimes tribunal.

“On behalf of the country, if they ask me to sit on the electric chair, I will happily do it,” the president said.

The leaked report detailed “credible allegations” which, if proven, indicate a wide range of violations by both the government and the rebels, “some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Labelling a Sri Lankan government commission set up to study the handling of the conflict “deeply flawed”, the report urged Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to immediately set up “an independent international mechanism” of inquiry.

The leaked excerpts were published Saturday in Sri Lanka’s pro-government The Island newspaper, with observers suggesting Colombo might have engineered the leak to prepare a full rebuttal that would pre-empt its official publication.

Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry officials said the government will also drum up support from “friendly nations” to prevent any international action against the country and its political and military leaders.

Colombo is banking on support from close allies China and Russia to block any UN Security Council move against it. Sri Lanka has avoided censure at the UN Human Rights Council thanks to the support of the two veto-wielding powers.

External Affairs minister G. L. Peiris will brief diplomats on Colombo’s opposition to the UN report this week after Rajapakse completes an upcoming three-day state visit to Bangladesh, officials said.

The UN report said “tens of thousands” of people died between January and May 2009 in the final offensive that resulted in the defeat of the Tigers, ending a decades-old ethnic conflict which had claimed up to 100,000 lives.

The report said allegations of attacks against civilians demanded a serious investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.

“If proven, those most responsible, including Sri Lanka army commanders and senior government officials, as well as military and civilian LTTE leaders, would bear criminal liability for international crimes,” it said.

It also listed alleged violations by the rebel forces, saying they had intentionally used civilians as human shields.


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