COLOMBO (Reuters) - The United States urged on Wednesday Sri Lanka’s government to hold anyone responsible for wartime rights violations accountable and warned that an international investigation could be an option if it failed to do so.
The Indian Ocean nation is under renewed pressure to address allegations its troops killed thousands of civilians and committed war crimes in the last stages of a quarter-century war with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas.
Sri Lanka has repeatedly called the allegations baseless and fronted by LTTE supporters, and has rejected the findings of a panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as biased and a threat to its post-war reconciliation efforts.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, ending a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, said Washington wanted Sri Lanka’s own institutions to deal with the allegations raised in the report.
“We look first to host governments, in this case the government of Sri Lanka, to take responsibility for these issues, and we hope they do so,” said Blake, who was Washington’s envoy to Colombo from 2006 through to the war’s end.
“International mechanisms can become appropriate in cases where states are either unable or unwilling to meet their obligations,” Blake told a news conference.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been furious with Washington’s pressure over the alleged rights violations in Sri Lanka’s battle against a group the United States has listed as a foreign terrorist organisation since 1997.
It regularly points to the thousands of civilian deaths attributed to U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, carried out as part of the campaign against al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. troops killed on Monday.
Asked if Washington was applying a double standard in the case of bin Laden and Sri Lanka’s killing of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, Blake said the United States had consistently backed efforts against the LTTE.
“I think they will both go down as two of the worst terrorist leaders in history,” he said. “Certainly no one in the United States, certainly not in my government, mourns the passing of Prabhakaran.”
During his trip, Blake met opposition parties, External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president’s brother who was the architect of the LTTE’s defeat.
Blake, and the United States, were at the forefront of Western efforts to get a cease-fire in place to protect the nearly 300,000 civilians the LTTE kept in the war zone as human shields in the final months of the war.
Sri Lanka rejected the call, pointing out that the LTTE had in the past manufactured civilian crises to build pressure for a truce when it was at a military disadvantage, which it in turn used to re-arm to fight again.
The United States and Britain have welcomed the U.N. panel’s work, while fellow U.N. Security Council members China and Russia have criticised it, a similar geopolitical split seen when Sri Lanka fought of the cease-fire calls.
Blake praised the efforts of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which has yet to present its findings. Sri Lanka has blasted Ban’s panel for trying to pre-empt the LLRC’s work and implementation of its findings.
The U.N.-appointed panel said the LLRC, like all other Sri Lankan commissions of inquiry created since the first of three violently suppressed insurgencies broke out in 1971, did not meet international standards and would not produce results.
Editing by Robert Birsel