U.N. chief urges Sri Lanka war crimes investigations

UNITED NATIONS Sat Jun 6, 2009 6:00am IST

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Any credible accusation of human rights violations committed during the final bloody phase of Sri Lanka's war against Tamil Tiger separatists should be investigated, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday.

"I'd like to ask the Sri Lankan government to recognize the international call for accountability and full transparency," Ban told reporters after he briefed the U.N. Security Council on a trip to Sri Lanka where he visited refugee camps and flew over the former conflict zone.

"Whenever and wherever there are credible allegations for the violations of international humanitarian law there should be a proper investigation," he said.

Human rights groups have criticized the government for what they say was a wanton disregard for human life during the final months of the war by continuously using heavy artillery to shell a tiny strip of land where the Tigers had retreated to along with hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Ban and other U.N. officials accused the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of holding the civilians hostage and using them as human shields as they fought to hold on to their sliver of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka.

The LTTE and Sri Lankan government have rejected the charges.

U.N. officials say it is unclear how many civilians died during the final phase of the war, which ended when the government declared victory over the LTTE on May 18.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said that several thousand civilians were killed. Diplomatic sources have told Reuters that the figure was probably higher than 10,000 but below 20,000.

NO 'TRIUMPHALISM'

During his trip to Sri Lanka last month, Ban urged the government to improve U.N. humanitarian access to the refugee camps, which hold more than 300,000 people. He told reporters that the government had told him restrictions were being eased and conditions in the camps were better.

Ban has also urged the government to ensure that it seeks reconciliation with the country's Tamil minority and that there is no "triumphalism" over the defeat of the LTTE now that the nearly 26-year war is over.

Sri Lanka's U.N. Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara told reporters that his government was taking U.N. recommendations to heart. But he said nothing about a full-scale war crimes investigation, something Colombo has said it would not accept.

"We have initiated a process of reconciliation and fact-finding," he said.

Ban also urged Sri Lanka to look after three doctors who were in the LTTE zone during the conflict.

The government has accused them of being propagandists for the LTTE based on comments they made to media about civilian casualties caused by government forces during the fighting. All three are in custody.

The Security Council took no action during its meeting on Sri Lanka. U.N. diplomats say that Russia, China and others on the 15-nation council believe that the war against the LTTE was a domestic issue that Sri Lankan authorities should be allowed to address on their own.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan)

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