Sri Lanka’s government-appointed commission to probe civil war begins public sittings

By Bharatha Mallawarachi, AP
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sri Lankan war commission begins public sitting

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan government-appointed commission to look into the country’s civil war opened public hearings Wednesday amid international skepticism about its credibility and mandate to probe and punish war crimes.

The hearings began a day after a group of 57 U.S. lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling her to push for an international investigation into the war crimes allegedly committed by government forces and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

The lawmakers said the Sri Lankan commission had a narrow scope and no mandate to investigate abuses.

The commission opened the proceedings with presentations by the former Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S. Bernard Gunatillake and a former peace negotiator with the Tigers.

Hearings also will be conducted in the ethnic Tamil majority areas, the commission says.

Tamil Tiger rebels fought for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils after decades of marginalization by successive majority ethnic Sinhalese-controlled governments.

International human rights groups have accused the government forces of deliberately shelling civilians, hospitals and blocking access to food and medicine to the civilians trapped in the war.

The rebels have been accused of holding civilians as human shields, killing those trying to escape the violence and forcibly recruiting children as fighters.

According to United Nations at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the war before it ended in May 2009.

International Crisis Group said in a report early this year that, comparing the original population of the war zone with those who escaped the fighting, the civilian deaths from the last phase of the war could be at least 30,000.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the commission last May, a year after the end of the war, to inquire why a Norway-brokered cease-fire between the government and Tamil Tigers signed in 2002 collapsed and who was responsible.

Human rights groups have said the commission is aimed at deflecting calls for an international probe on the alleged shelling of civilians and other issues.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June appointed a three-member panel to advise him on ensuring accountability on the alleged abuses in the Sri Lankan civil war.

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