COLOMBO, March 15 (Reuters) - Smarting at mounting criticism of its human rights record amid escalating civil war, Sri Lanka’s government has accused the United States of throwing a lifeline to the widely banned Tamil Tiger rebels.
In its annual report on human rights practices, the U.S. State Department said the Sri Lankan state’s respect for human rights continued to decline in 2007, citing reports of killings by government agents and collaboration between the state and paramilitaries accused of major rights abuses.
"The report presents a distorted view of the actual situation in Sri Lanka during the year 2007 and is unfortunately a litany of unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo and vituperative exaggerations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued late on Friday.
"It is indeed a matter of concern that the report, based on hearsay ... has resulted in throwing a lifeline to the LTTE (Tigers) at a time when it is struggling to maintain its position both militarily on the ground and internationally."
The United States is among a host of nations which have outlawed the Tigers as a terrorist group. The U.S. embassy in Colombo said the government stood by its report.
Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on one side or the other since the increasingly dirty civil war, which has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983, resumed in 2006.
A panel of international experts observing a presidential commission investigation into a raft of human rights abuses and killings has decided to quit the island, saying the government is hindering the process and failing to protect witnesses.
The father of a Tamil youth, who rights groups say was among a group of five killed by the security forces in the island’s east in 2006, gave evidence by satellite on Friday in which he said the attack was pre-planned and that a government minister had called him to ask him not to make a fuss.
"He said: You have other children also ... It must be the forces suspected them as LTTE and shot the children," Dr. K Manoharan said from an undisclosed location, saying the minister had offered him a house in the capital Colombo.
"So do not make it a big issue," he quoted the minister as adding.
The government and military have publicly ruled out any involvement by the military, as with a series of other killings, including the massacre of 17 local staff of aid group Action Contre La Faim, which Nordic monitors pinned on the security forces. (Reporting by Simon Gardner; Editing by Jerry Norton)