GENEVA Sri Lanka on Monday rejected U.N. involvement in probing allegations of army atrocities in the long war against Tamil rebels that ended in 2009, saying U.N. calls to prosecute soldiers guilty of misconduct were "unwarranted incursions".
Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka's minister of plantation industries, told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council that the Indian Ocean state needed "time and space" to carry out its own investigations into any abuses.
"We need to ensure that the process is allowed to advance unimpeded. We do not need unwarranted incursions that will compromise successful implementation," Samarasinghe said.
Western governments and rights groups are pushing Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of a U.N. probe that urged prosecution of soldiers guilty of misconduct in the final phases of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The United States, the 27-nation European Union and other countries at the council are offering a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to put the probe's recommendations into effect. The council began its four-week spring session on Monday.
Samarasinghe said there was no need for a resolution, as the government had already taken steps to carry out recommendations made by a national Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that investigated the army's role.
The U.N. sponsored-panel that looked into the final stages of the war said in its report last year that it found "credible evidence" the military killed tens of thousands of Tamils, mainly civilians.
Samarasinghe rejected that conclusion, calling reports of the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians "a gross exaggeration".
Across Sri Lanka on Monday, authorities organised rallies to oppose the resolution, with many state employees demonstrating in their uniforms against the United States' position.
In the capital Colombo, about 10,000 people turned out to support the government and marched peacefully on the U.S. embassy to present a petition urging Washington not to pressure Sri Lanka.
"Whose conspiracy is this? It's the conspiracy of the bloody foreigners!" the crowd chanted.
"Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and the Western nations have started a conspiracy against Sri Lanka. They are trying to do the same thing they have done to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iran," Buddhist monk Kotapala Mangala told Reuters, dressed in a the customary saffron robe.
As a precaution, the United Nations office in Colombo sent employees home early. A hardline nationalist minister in 2010 besieged the office with supporters and led a three-day hunger strike there against the call for a war crimes investigation.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley in Geneva and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Editing by Roger Atwood)