UN war crimes panel chief criticises Sri Lanka ban: report

25th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of a UN panel probing alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka's civil war has criticised Colombo's decision to ban him and colleagues from the country, a report said Friday.

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, was named Tuesday to lead a team advising UN chief Ban Ki-moon on possible war crimes committed in Sri Lanka during its 37-year separatist war that ended in 2009.

"Everybody loses out if we cannot go to Sri Lanka, it will make it harder for the truth to be unearthed," Darusman told the BBC, describing the ban as "most unfortunate".

His remarks came after Sri Lanka's External Affairs minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said Colombo would not grant visas to members of the panel, which he described as "totally unnecessary".

The United States backed the UN move and urged Sri Lanka to cooperate. But Russia, also a permanent UN Security Council member, raised concerns about the appointment of the panel in the first place.

"The UN secretary-general as chief administrative officer of the UN should apparently have asked the opinion of the Security Council or the General Assembly on this matter," Russia's foreign ministry said.

"But this has not happened," the ministry said in a June 24 statement. "What also makes us cautious is the fact that this decision was taken without regard to the position of a sovereign state and a member of the UN -- Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka maintains that its own investigation of the war, which pitched government troops against Tamil Tiger separatists, is adequate.

The UN panel was set up after international pressure for an independent probe into allegations that Tamil civilians were killed by government troops and that surrendering rebels were executed in cold blood.

Sri Lanka managed to stave off a UN resolution last year with the help of Russia and China, key allies and arms suppliers to the island.

Ban has asked his three-member panel to complete its work in four months.

Naming the panel on Tuesday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky emphasised it had a mostly consultative role and that "primary responsibility for investigating rests with the authorities of Sri Lanka."

However, many diplomats see the move as a precursor to a full-blown war crimes investigation.

The UN itself has said that at least 7,000 Tamil civilians perished in the first four months of 2009 before the government secured final victory over the Tigers that May.

© 2010 AFP

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