News / Asia

EU, US Condemn Sri Lankan Protests Against UN

The European Union and nine other countries, including the United States, are warning Sri Lanka that protests against a United Nations war crimes panel could harm the island nation's reputation around the world.

In a joint statement Friday, the nations, including the Sri Lankan-based missions of Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Romania, and Norway, said peaceful protest is a part of democracy, but blocking access to the U.N. and intimidating U.N. personnel is a breach of international norms.

On Tuesday, demonstrators, led by nationalist Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, besieged the U.N. compound in Colombo, trapping staff inside for several hours.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled the top U.N. official in Sri Lanka and shut down the U.N. Development Program's regional office in the capital due to the protests.  Essential staff were still working at the U.N. office on Friday.

Last month, the U.N. chief appointed a panel to look into whether human rights abuses were committed during the final months of Sri Lanka's war against Tamil Tiger Rebels. Sri Lanka says the international probe is a violation of its sovereignty. The U.N. says it has no plans to scrap the panel.

Protests continued for a fourth day outside the U.N. office in Colombo Friday. Demonstrators marched to the Russian embassy to seek Moscow's support in quashing the U.N. probe. Russia has criticized the panel.

Housing Minister Weerawansa continued his hunger strike Friday and submitted his resignation, which was rejected by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Weerawansa said he wants to step down so his actions do not "embarrass the government."  The minister says he is prepared to fast to death to stop a U.N. plan to "hunt down Sri Lanka's soldiers."

Sri Lanka denies any war crimes were committed in the military operation, which resulted in the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in May of 2009.  The government has appointed its own commission to examine the conflict.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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