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Tamils demand foreign probe after Sri Lanka war report

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party Thursday demanded an international inquiry after the UN admitted it failed to protect thousands of civilians killed by troops in the final phase of the country’s conflict in 2009.
The moderate Tamil National Alliance said the report published by the UN secretary general’s office confirmed its longstanding allegations of widespread killing and incarceration of civilians.
“Now that the UN has come (out) with this report we want action,” party spokesman M. A. Sumanthiran told AFP.
“There should be an international inquiry. The government as the main accused party cannot be involved in the investigation.”
Sri Lanka has resisted previous calls for an independent probe and instead appointed a domestic commission to recommend measures to prevent the country slipping back into ethnic war.
“We would like to see reparations, restitution and justice for the people who suffered,” Sumanthiran said. “No one can say that these allegations should not be investigated.”
The report, commissioned by secretary general Ban Ki-moon to look into the UN’s own role in Sri Lanka, reinforced claims by international rights groups that up to 40,000 civilians could have been killed by government forces.
“Other sources have referred to credible information indicating that over 70,000 people are unaccounted for,” the report noted while placing the death toll at about 40,000.
The damning review of UN action during the final months of the separatist war in 2009, in which tens of thousands were killed and up to 300,000 people displaced, criticized the UN leadership, the Security Council and UN staff in Sri Lanka.
UN officials were afraid to publicize widespread killings, top UN leaders did not intervene and the 15-member Security Council did not give “clear” orders to protect civilians, said the report.
There was “a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN,” it said.
The administration of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, whose re-election in 2010 owed much to the war campaign he championed, has insisted that not a single civilian was killed by its troops.
Sumanthiran said they welcomed the UN’s admission of its failure but the only way to make amends was to ensure justice for the victims.
“They (UN) have exposed the truth of how they themselves turned their backs on the (Tamil) people of the north when they needed them,” Sumanthiran said. “But they have acknowledged it. It is a good thing.”
The report noted that UN staff were also intimidated by Sri Lanka’s government, a charge already denied by a Sri Lankan minister who insisted that they worked closely with all humanitarian agencies.
The spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was expelled from Sri Lanka over his comments about the “unimaginable hell” suffered by children caught up in the fighting.
The UN, which pulled its staff out of the conflict zone in September 2008, said it had two of its local staff abducted and tortured by Sri Lanka’s police.
There was no immediate comment from the UN office in Colombo, where the war-time staff have since retired or been transferred.
The final onslaught saw troops eliminate the entire Tamil Tiger military leadership and claim victory in the 37-year-long conflict.
Tiger rebels took up arms in 1972 to try to win an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in the majority Sinhalese nation of 20 million.