- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sri Lanka will hold accountable every person accused of war crimes during its decades-long civil conflict, the island nation’s ambassador to the U.S. says.

The Obama administration and human-rights groups have questioned Sri Lanka’s commitment to accountability after its government released a 387-page report on the conflict that does not identify any war-crimes suspects.

Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya said the suspects’ names are disclosed in eyewitness testimony that is posted on the website of the government-appointed commission that issued the report.

“There are no names [in the report], but there is a process to check accountability,” Mr. Wickramasuriya said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Accusations of war crimes run up the military’s chain of command and include Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Sri Lankan government has opposed an international investigation, and Mr. Wickramasuriya said that position has not changed.

“We believe that a home-grown solution is the best solution for Sri Lanka,” he said.

The Sri Lankan army declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, ending a war that spanned nearly three decades and killed thousands of people.

Sri Lanka’s president appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in May 2010 to examine the war and post-conflict efforts.

Human Rights Watch said the commission report “disregards the worst abuses by government forces, rehashes longstanding recommendations, and fails to advance accountability for victims of Sri Lanka’s civil armed conflict.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week that the report does not fully address all the allegations of human-rights violations that occurred in the last phase of the conflict.

“This leaves questions about accountability,” she said.

The government’s preliminary action plan does not provide the kind of “detailed road map that we had hoped to see for fulfilling all of the commission’s recommendations,” she added.

Mr. Wickramasuriya said Ms. Nuland’s comments were inaccurate.

“We were very upset about that statement,” he said. “The U.S. is one of our very good friends, and we are a democratic country in the region. Sri Lanka should be credited at this time.”

Moreover, the report adequately addresses the last days of the conflict, the diplomat said.

Earlier this year, a U.N. panel found there were credible reports that the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers committed war crimes during the final months of the war.

The Sri Lankan commission report contradicts prior claims by the government that no civilians were killed by its forces. It concludes that there were “considerable civilian casualties” during the final days of the conflict and that hospitals had been shelled.

Sri Lankan forces did not deliberately target civilians in no-fire zones, the report adds.

Mr. Wickramasuriya said Sri Lanka’s military had undertaken a “humanitarian operation” during the war to protect civilians, noting that government forces needed two years to clear rebels from their eastern and northern strongholds.

“If we weren’t concerned about civilians, clearing that area wouldn’t take that long,” he said, acknowledging that there had been some civilian casualties.

Sri Lanka, an island the size of West Virginia in the Indian Ocean, has a population of 20 million.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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