- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Sri Lankan government has appointed a senior army officer accused of war crimes in the conflict with Tamil rebels as its deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva’s presence in New York coincides with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon setting up a panel of experts to advise him on accountability for human rights violations during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

In an interview with theSunday Leader newspaperlate last year, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Sri Lankan army chief who led a campaign that ended more than two decades of conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, said Defense Secretary Gothbaya Rajapaksa gave Gen. Silva orders “not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that ‘they must all be killed.’”

The army’s 58th Division, which was under Gen. Silva’s command, allegedly executed civilians, killed LTTE fighters as they tried to surrender and shelled medical facilities.

Gen. Silva denies the allegations.

Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group, said Gen. Silva’s appointment is “disturbing.”

In a phone interview from London, Mr. Keenan said it appeared to be more than a coincidence that Gen. Silva would be appointed to the mission in New York at the same time as Mr. Ban set up the panel of experts.

“So it seems fair to assume that he is trying to influence it, which is the right of the Sri Lankan government. But I think that is disturbing that someone who himself was involved in the very incidents that the U.N. has begun looking into should have any chance to influence the panel’s operations,” Mr. Keenan said.

Reports, including some received by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo and confirmed by Gen. Fonseka, document an incident on May 18, 2009, in which three LTTE leaders tried to surrender with their families while holding white flags. According to a Tamil eyewitness, Sri Lankan troops opened fire on the group. Everyone was killed.

“Because of the [Sri Lankan] government’s failure to seriously investigate laws of war violations during the fighting, this alleged incident should be part of an international investigation,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch.

A senior Sri Lankan army officer has confirmed in a sworn affidavit to the group Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) that the army was given orders to kill guerrilla leaders and then burn their bodies.

Jan Jananayagam, a U.K.-based member of TAG, while declining to identify the officer over concern for his safety, said the officer told her group the army’s field commanders received oral orders from the defense secretary in the last months of the battle.

Mr. Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has denied giving such orders.

Gen. Silva also said the defense secretary never instructed him to kill LTTE leaders trying to surrender and that reports the army attacked hospitals are fabricated.

“I, being a disciplined and professionally trained military officer, who respects and believes in human rights and has a thorough knowledge on humanitarian law, have never given any instructions under my command relating to the execution of LTTE leaders, or anyone else,” Gen. Silva said in a written response to questions from The Washington Times.

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