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UN Releases Report on Possible War Crimes in Sri Lanka

The U.N. Secretary-General says he will launch an international investigation into allegations of possible war crimes during the final phase of the Sri Lankan government’s war with separatist Tamil Tigers only if the government agrees or U.N. member states call for it. The long-awaited report was released late Monday and says war crimes were likely committed by both sides.

The release was delayed several days as the U.N. awaited a reply from Sri Lanka as to whether it would issue a response to the report alongside the document. The U.N. said that reply has still not come.

In the 195-page report, the panel found "credible" allegations of human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels during final stages of the conflict between September 2008 and May 2009.

The three-person panel, headed by former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, recommended that the Sri Lankan government conduct a "genuine investigation" into the accusations and other alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides.

U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said the Secretary-General encourages the Sri Lankan government to comply with this recommendation. But on the panel’s other recommendation that Mr. Ban establish an independent investigation into the deaths of thousands of civilians, it appears he does not believe he has the authority to do so.

"In regard to the recommendation that he establish an international investigation mechanism, the Secretary-General is advised that this will require host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum, " said Haq.

Haq said the Secretary-General’s view has always been that Sri Lanka, first and foremost, should assume responsibility for accountability.

VOA's telephone calls to the Sri Lankan U.N. Mission last week and on Monday went unreturned. A secretary at the mission said Monday that the ambassador is in Sri Lanka and that his deputy was at a meeting and unavailable for comment on the report. News reports in Sri Lanka have quoted government officials as condemning the report as "fraud"

The report also recommends that the United Nations review its own actions regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates during the crisis. Spokesman Haq said Secretary-General Ban would respond positively to that suggestion.

Among the allegations, the panel says that during the final months of the conflict, the Sri Lankan Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni region, which had been under Tamil control, using large-scale and widespread shelling, causing large numbers of civilian deaths.

The report says some 330,000 civilians were trapped in this ever-decreasing area, but that despite the danger the Tamil Tigers refused to let them leave, using them as hostages and on occasion as human shields.