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U.N. panel on Sri Lanka to be named next week

Members of the military lower a Sri Lankan national flag earlier in the evening because of an approaching storm in Colombo April 7, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The United Nations should by next week name a panel to advise Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on accountability for potential war crimes in Sri Lanka, the world body’s top political official said on Thursday.

The Sri Lankan government has urged Ban not to appoint the advisory panel, saying it has its own commission to investigate possible rights violations at the end of its war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009.

Rights groups took advantage of the anniversary of the defeat to renew pressure for a probe into the end of the war, in which they say tens of thousands of civilians died in the cataclysmic final battles. The government denies any war crimes took place.

Amid heavy Western pressure, Ban has insisted the panel must go forward despite Sri Lanka’s urging against it, and assertion that it is a violation of its sovereignty.

U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe said Ban’s panel “will advise him on international standards and comparative experiences with accountability. It will also be available as a resource Sri Lankans can turn to.”

“I’m not going to pre-empt and provide you details of the panel’s members or its broad mandate. I expect (Ban) to make the announcement early next week,” Pascoe told reporters in Colombo at the end of a two-day trip to the Indian Ocean island nation.

Last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa named an eight-person “Commission on Lessons Learned and reconciliation” to look into the last seven years of the war. Pascoe said the United Nations is interested in its progress.

Pascoe’s visit coincides with those of two senior White House officials and a Japanese peace envoy on his 20th visit to Sri Lanka, both of which come against the backdrop of renewed pressure for an investigation into the war’s end.