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Sri Lanka Issues Report & Documentary To Dispute War Crimes Claims

Sri Lankan government supporters hold placards against Britain's Channel 4 television during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Hundreds of government supporters, including state-run media journalists, protested Tuesday in Colombo against the UK channel wit

Sri Lanka has released an official report, and television documentary, attempting to refute allegations its army committed crimes against humanity as its civil war concluded in 2009. Human rights advocates call the campaign a "whitewash", but say there are signs Colombo is responding to international pressure.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa released his ministry's official report on Monday on what the army calls its humanitarian mission of 2009. In his comments, Rajapaksa squared off against the "vicious falsehoods" of foreign media.

Probe recommended

Earlier this year, a panel of United Nations-appointed researchers recommended an international probe into the final months of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war. Their report concluded there was credible evidence the military may have killed tens of thousands of civilians in deliberate attacks on non-combatant targets such as hospitals. It also acknowledged "Tamil Tiger" separatists probably employed terror tactics, like using hostages as human shields.

Sri Lanka says the U.N. report is biased and false. Alan Keenan, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, says this latest attempt by Colombo to refute it is deliberately inaccurate.

"They boldly claim in the MoD document that from the very beginning of this humanitarian operation, there was no use of heavy artillery or aerial bombardment. Now, that's simply a lie. In fact, it's disproven by their own public statements... We could get you literally tens of thousands of people who would testify," Keenan said.

Rights group criticism

Human rights groups criticize the Sri Lankan report for glossing over the allegations of civilian massacres, or of the summary execution of captured "Tamil Tiger" prisoners in violation of international laws of war.

The report does concede it may have been impossible to avoid civilian deaths altogether. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, says that is significant.

"Clearly this is because they are increasingly faced with credible allegations of war crimes and they are unable to continue the flat denials they've engaged in earlier," Ganguly stated.

New documentary

On another front, Sri Lanka released a professionally produced documentary this week called "Lies Agreed Upon." It takes aim at another program, "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields," produced by Britain's Channel 4 a few months ago.

"Doctored footage and deliberate lies are presented as authentic," an announcer says in the documentary. "Numbers are pulled from thin air and presented as fact. Sources are not mentioned, faces hidden, and voices distorted -- just like the truth."

The Sri Lankan documentary includes interviews with doctors who served in hospitals at the heart of the fighting in May 2009. They deny key elements of the influential Channel 4 report, particularly that the hospitals came under attack.

Keenan, from the International Crisis Group, says he believes the doctors gave the interviews under government coercion.

"Sri Lanka is simply not a context in which people can speak freely about their experience of the war... That's why we need a truly independent investigation, in which they can come forward freely and speak," he said.

Sri Lanka's own investigative body -- the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission -- is expected to issue a report later this year. It provides no witness protection to Sri Lankans who offer testimony, and the U.N. panel report labelled it "inadequate."