WikiLeaks renews accusations over Sri Lanka war crimes

Friday, 3 December 2010 00:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Accusations on president, other leaders means no probe-US
  • Cable: UK pressures Colombo over war for election politics

By C. Bryson Hull

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The United States believes there is little prospect Sri Lanka will hold anyone accountable for the bloody end of the war with the Tamil Tigers because war crimes allegations involve top government figures, leaked U.S. documents say.

The Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis is among thousands of classified documents released by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Another cable from the U.S. embassy in London reveals an admission by a British diplomat that former Foreign Secretary David Miliband pressured Sri Lanka’s government for a ceasefire to help secure Labour party votes from Britain’s Tamil Diaspora.

The release of the documents revisits accusations against the government made around the time of Sri Lanka’s May 2009 crushing of the Tamil Tiger separatists in a quarter-century civil war.

Entitled “Sri Lanka War-Crimes Accountability: The Tamil Perspective”, the cable from the Colombo embassy was written 11 days before the poll that saw President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeat General Sarath Fonseka, his erstwhile war ally now in jail.

“While regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not surprising. There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power,” Butenis wrote.

“In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.”

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy had no immediate comment.

Sri Lanka’s Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa, a firebrand nationalist who held rowdy protests against a U.N. inquiry into the war, was measured in his response.

“Those revelations are nothing new for us and nothing exclusive. The important thing is the US officials are silent over those,” he told a press conference.

Human rights groups, Tamil pressure groups overseas and some Western governments accused the government of responsibility for what they say are thousands of civilian deaths or other atrocities that could constitute war crimes. They have demanded an international probe.

Colombo says its troops committed no war crimes and has acknowledged some civilians died, but says the numbers given by rights groups are vastly inflated for propaganda purposes. Rajapaksa so far has made good on his vow to stand up against any external probe including a U.N. attempt. Miliband visited Sri Lanka with French Foreign Secretary Bernard Kouchner just three weeks prior to the war’s end, where he levelled stiff criticism at the government. The Rajapaksa administration accused him then of playing election politics.

The cable from the U.S. embassy in London described a meeting with Britain’s Foreign Office Sri Lanka team leader, Tim Waite: “He said that with U.K. elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka.”

Waite said Miliband recently told him “he was spending 60 percent of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka”, the cable says.

Colombo is furious the U.S. and British governments have rejected probes into their militaries’ reponsibility for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but want it investigated for its campaign to wipe out a group on 32 nations’ terrorism lists.

Butenis in her dispatch says there were many instances of alleged war crimes by the Tigers, but that since nearly all of its leadership was killed, few were left to be held responsible.

Rajapaksa has appointed a commission to probe the end of the war. Rights groups have refused an invitation to present evidence at it, saying it lacks credibility. Sri Lanka has a long history of commissions that produce few tangible results.