Sri Lanka probe urged as video airs in US

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US lawmakers and rights advocates on Friday stepped up calls for an international probe into Sri Lanka's civil war as they screened a British documentary that purports to show war crimes.

"Sri Lanka's Killing Fields" was shown to the public inside the US Capitol complex. First aired on Channel 4 in June, the 50-minute documentary caused shock in Britain and angry denials from Sri Lanka's military.

Representative James McGovern, co-chair of a US Congress human rights commission named in honor of late lawmaker Tom Lantos, said that the film was "a gruesome example of humans at their worst."

"These scenes provide much more than simply shock value, however: They also are powerful evidence of the need for an independent investigation to hold those responsible accountable for the crimes," said McGovern, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party from Massachusetts.

"If the Sri Lankan government is unable or unwilling to act, then the international community must respond in its place," McGovern said.

McGovern said that anyone found guilty of war crimes should be punished, regardless of whether they belonged to government forces or the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

The documentary, which includes footage from mobile telephones allegedly shot at the scene of war crimes, showed what appeared to be prisoner executions and the aftermath of the shelling of civilian hospitals as the military crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

It showed the bodies of female Tiger fighters who appeared to have been sexually assaulted. It also pointed to abuses by the Tigers, who were known for suicide bombings during their nearly four-decade-long separatist insurgency.

A UN report has also spoke of abuses, alleging that the government executed rebel leaders who had worked out a surrender. The United Nations has said that up to 7,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting.

Sri Lanka's military has said that a local panel will take action if war crimes allegations are proven but denied any civilian deaths. The military said original footage showed that soldiers -- presented in the documentary as executing prisoners -- were actually rebels dressed in army fatigues.

Sri Lankan media said last week that authorities detained a Briton for allegedly helping produce the documentary.

US lawmakers, after lobbying from Tamil Americans, have led calls for a UN-led inquiry into war crimes allegations. The State Department has warned Sri Lanka that it must ensure accountability or face growing global pressure, although it has stopped short of fully backing an international probe.

Amnesty International helped arrange the US screening of the documentary. Adotei Akwei, the rights group's US managing director of government relations, said the event was meant to "counter an effort to describe the end of the war as neat and precise by the Sri Lankan government."

"I think that there has been either a reluctance or an unwillingness by the administration to be a champion on this. This documentary will make it much harder for that to continue," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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