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Feb-15-2012 16:54printcomments

Sri Lankan Army to Probe Allegations of War Crimes

Sentences handed down in a general court martial include the death penalty.

Tamil Genocide
Image from the documentary, "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields'

(COLOMBO) - The Sri Lankan Army on Wednesday appointed a court of inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes that allegedly took place during the final stages of the conflict with Tamil rebels in May 2009.

The investigation will cover the alleged killing of civilians by troops as well as footage from a British television documentary - titled Sri Lanka's Killing Fields - which showed the purported extrajudicial killings of Tamils by the military, as well as bodies of women who appeared to have been sexually abused.

The army's move comes two days after the United States said it would support a resolution against Sri Lanka at an upcoming UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, as Colombo has failed to fulfill the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration last year disagreed with a United Nations report alleging war crimes and rejected any claims that civilians were deliberately killed in the final stages of the 26-year conflict, which ended on May 19, 2009, after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was killed by the army.

But the army said in a statement Wednesday that it would investigate the Channel 4 documentary 'irrespective of its authenticity or otherwise.' The government had earlier rejected the footage as fabricated and said it did not warrant an investigation.

In June, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Colombo to probe allegations of war crimes highlighted in the documentary, which also showed alleged 'trophy videos' taken on mobile phones by Sri Lankan soldiers during military operations.

The army is also to focus on the LLRC - which heard evidence for more than one-and-a-half years and released its report on December 16 - regarding the last days of the conflict in which Tamil rebels were allegedly eliminated in a military crackdown.

'A court of inquiry is an initial fact-finding inquiry ... If there is a prima facie case disclosed against any person from the evidence led before the Court of Inquiry, a General Court Martial will be convened to try the alleged offenders,' the army statement said.

Sentences handed down in a general court martial include the death penalty.

A UN report last year said there was credible evidence of war crimes committed by both government forces and rebels. During the final six to eight months of the conflict at least 7,500 civilians were killed, according to UN estimates.




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