Fifty-eight members of Congress are calling for an international investigation into charges of war crimes against the Sri Lankan government during its 26-year civil war against rebels who pioneered terrorist tactics and used civilians as human shields.
Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Washington told Embassy Row on Thursday that the congressional complaints are premature and he suspects the members were influenced by opponents of the Sri Lankan government.
In a letter this week to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 54 House Democrats and four House Republicans cited the “alleged crimes” that include the intentional bombing of civilians and humanitarian organizations; abuse and detention of unarmed civilians and captured rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); the use of child soldiers; and the killing of rebels trying to surrender in the last battle of the war last year.
“In light of these concerns, we urge you to call for a robust and independent international investigation that would finally clarify the events that occurred during the conflict and provide the foundation for a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka,” they said in the letter sent to the State Department on Monday.
The congressional letter also questioned the independence of a reconciliation commission established by the Sri Lankan government to restore stability after a war that claimed about 70,000 lives among the South Asian nation’s majority Sinahlese and minority Tamil communities.
Ambassador Jaliya Chitran Wickramasuriyasaid he regretted the tone of the congressional letter.
“They have neglected all the good work happening in Sri Lanka,” he said.
He noted that his government was overwhelmed by 300,000 refugees from the war when the conflict ended with a rebel surrender in May 2009. The ambassador said about 90 percent of those refugees have been resettled in their homes, mostly in Tamil regions in the northern tip of the island nation.
Mr. Wickramasuriya also questioned the timing of the letter because the reconciliation commission has not completed its work. He added that Mrs. Clinton expressed strong encouragement for Sri Lanka’s postwar efforts when Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris visited Washington in May.
The ambassador suspected the congressional letter was influenced by what he described as a small, but influential, group of Tamil separatists in the United States.
“It is a couple of people responsible for all the lies,” he said.
During the foreign minister’s visit, Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration “strongly supports political and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” She urged the government to give the commission a broad mandate to investigate all claims of war crimes and human rights violations. She also recognized the government’s “tremendous progress” in resettling refugees.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the Tamil rebels for crimes against civilians, and some influential U.S. think tanks have recognized the brutality of the Tigers.
The Council on Foreign Relations said in a report on the rebels: “The LTTE is notorious for having pioneered the suicide bomb jacket, as well as the use of women in suicide attacks.