Sri Lanka bars human rights panel from visiting country

COLOMBO Sun Feb 3, 2013 4:07pm EST

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Sunday it would not allow into the country an international human rights panel due to visit after the government's controversial sacking of the chief justice.

A four-member delegation of the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute was scheduled to be in Colombo on February 1-10 to assess the country's rule of law after the removal of Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first woman head of the Supreme Court on January 13.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa removed her from office, defying a Supreme Court ruling that the impeachment process was illegal, amid concerns raised by the United States, the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry said on Sunday it had revoked the visas for the delegation after finding inaccurate information in the applications.

"The visit was not for the purpose of attending conferences, workshops and seminars, but undertaking activity surreptitiously which is of an intrusive nature to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka," the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

On Saturday, the legal panel said its delegation was forced to postpone its visit due to the last-minute withdrawal of permission to enter the country.

Sri Lanka's decision could irk some Western nations including the United States, which have been demanding that Rajapaksa's government address human rights violations in the final phase of a three-decade war that ended in May, 2009.

The United States said on Monday it would sponsor a resolution against Sri Lanka, for a second year, at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March for failing to pursue those responsible for abuses as government forces were crushing Tamil rebels in 2009.

Since the end of the war, Sri Lanka has rejected claims of human rights allegations including murdering thousands of innocent ethnic minority Tamil civilians in the rebel area.

Sri Lanka has also rejected a demand by the West for an international probe on war crimes. Instead Rajapaksa appointed a local panel to look into the allegations.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in March last year adopted a resolution brought by the United States urging Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the official domestic probe. That commission called for the prosecution of soldiers guilty of misconduct.

(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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