World News

Sri Lanka says U.N. panel can not conduct own war crimes probe

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said on Thursday it would not allow a U.N. panel to conduct an independent probe into the country’s 25-year war, a few weeks after reversing a ban on U.N. members taking part in a controversial, local investigating body.

The government said in a statement the U.N. panel can only testify before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a state-created body that human rights groups say lacks the credibility, and impartiality, needed to look into alleged human rights violations by the military against Tamil Tiger rebels, especially in the last few months of the conflict.

“The U.N. panel will be given visas only to testify before the LLRC if they request (that) and not for any investigations,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo.

“This is the government stance and there is no change in that. The U.N. has so far not requested visa in this regard.”

The government statement came in response to demands by opposition parties to clarify a December 19 statement that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would allow a three-member panel appointed by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon into the country to take part in the LLRC.

Sri Lanka has vigorously fought against Western pressure to allow an international investigation into allegations that war crimes were committed during the final months of a 25-year civil war with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Human rights groups, Tamil pressure groups overseas and some Western governments accuse the Sri Lankan government of responsibility for what they say are thousands of civilian deaths or other atrocities that could constitute war crimes.

The government has acknowledged some civilians were killed but says accusations that thousands died are inflated for propaganda purposes by rebel supporters.

Sri Lanka’s failure to set up an independent probe into the alleged war crimes has already cost the island nation $150 million (97 million pounds) worth trade concession from the European Union annually. Economists also said it is hampering foreign investment.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Miral Fahmy