Sri Lanka President swipes at U.N. record

COLOMBO Tue Sep 25, 2007 11:38pm EDT

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa addresses the 62nd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 25, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa addresses the 62nd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 25, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - Under fire amid a rash of civil war human rights abuses, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has turned the tables on the United Nations, questioning its efficiency, and ability to help tackle terrorism.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York overnight Rajapaksa, whose administration has vilified UN envoys for criticism, said solutions to armed conflicts must be homegrown and rights should not be used as a tool to victimize countries.

"The UN has a mixed record of achievements. As resources received by the UN are limited, it has been only possible to deliver limited results," Rajapaksa told the assembly on Tuesday in his native Sinhala.

"We need to focus on these as they have often been characterized by countless, poorly coordinated, ineffectively designed, ineptly staffed and overlapping programs, with unnecessary inter-agency rivalry."

Rajapaksa called on the UN to wind up negotiations on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, saying the body was locked in endless discussion, adding Sri Lanka supports strengthening UN mechanisms for countering fund raising for illegal activities.

"State sovereignty, civil society and the rule of law are increasingly being threatened by terrorism and other illegal and illicit activities in many countries," Rajapaksa said.

"Although the UN system has set up mechanisms to deal with many of these problems, the capacity of the UN to address these challenges effectively has been brought into question."

Rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed or abducted in Sri Lanka since last year, when a civil war that has killed around 70,000 people since 1983 resumed after a near four-year lull. Some abuses have been blamed on state security forces.

The government says the reports are overblown and designed to tarnish its image, and has slammed United Nations envoys for voicing concerns and slammed foreign governments and rights groups for criticism.

Sri Lanka has rejected calls from rights groups and aid workers for a United Nations human rights monitoring mission, saying it would infringe on its sovereignty and that it is capable of probing abuses itself.

"Human rights are too important to be used as a tool to victimize states for political advantage. It is essential that international action to facilitate compliance with human rights standards is fair and even handed," Rajapaksa said.

The government's Tamil Tiger rebel foes, who are widely outlawed as a terrorist organization and have mounted a spree of bombings and suicide attacks, accuse the state of waging a genocidal war against minority Tamils and say they have been isolated and have no forum to voice their views.

"Terrorism anywhere is terrorism," Rajapaksa said. "We launched military operations only to exert pressure on terrorists in order to convince them that it will not be possible for them to obtain a military victory."

Analysts say seeking to annihilate the Tigers militarily will only result in more bloodshed, and see no clear winner on the horizon. An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since early 2006 alone.

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