March 6, 2010 / 12:28 PM / 10 years ago

Sri Lanka calls U.N. rights panel 'unwarranted'

COLOMBO, March 6 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s president has told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a proposed U.N. panel to look into possible human rights abuses in the country’s civil war was unwarranted, the president’s office said on Saturday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to ask a panel of experts to advise the world body on "accountability issues" relating to possible human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, his spokesman said on Friday. [ID:nN0546358]

"President Mahinda Rajapaksa has pointed out that the intention of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a panel of experts to advice him on Sri Lanka is totally uncalled for and unwarranted," his office said in a statement.

"No such action had been taken about other states with continuing armed conflicts on a large scale, involving major humanitarian catastrophes and causing the deaths of large numbers of civilians due to military action."

Rajapaksa said such a move would certainly be perceived as interference with the campaign for the April 8 general election, the statement said.

"President Rajapaksa reiterated that any appointment of such a panel as intended would compel Sri Lanka to take necessary and appropriate action in that regard."

Rights groups and Western governments are pressing for some kind of accountability for thousands of civilian deaths in the last months of the island’s 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which aimed to create a separate homeland for the island’s Tamil minority.

Rights groups have accused Sri Lanka and the LTTE of war crimes during the conflict’s final phase and they have demanded an independent probe of the allegations, as has U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions Philip Alston.

It was not clear if Ban’s expert panel would go as far as human rights groups would like.

The Sri Lankan government has denied charges of deliberately targeting civilians and other human rights breaches. The government declared victory over the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

On Thursday, the top U.N. human rights official said human rights abuses in Sri Lanka are damaging prospects for reconciliation after 25 years of civil war. [ID:nLDE6231DB]. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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