March 25, 2008 / 9:25 AM / 11 years ago

Panel says S.Lanka human rights probe falls short

COLOMBO, April 15 (Reuters) - Foreign observers criticised Sri Lanka’s official probe into rights abuses in their final report on Tuesday, before they finally quit the island, saying there was a "lack of political will to find the the truth".

The report piled more pressure on Colombo over its rights record amid a new phase in a 25-year civil war.

"The uncooperative atmosphere has rendered the task of (the panel), which approached its work in a spirit of cooperation and, at first, with optimism, disquieting and unpleasant," the report said.

A presidential commission into rights abuses, including a massacre of 17 aid workers in 2006 that Nordic truce monitors blamed on security forces, was ordered in 2006 following global calls for action.

The international independent group of eminent persons (IIGEP), which released its final report on Tuesday, had said in March that it would quit its operations in Sri Lanka, citing government interference.

The IIGEP was nominated by a host of foreign counties to observe the presidential commission’s probe into abuses.

"Sections of popular opinion suggest that human rights and respect for the rule of law should take second place to measures necessary to repel these hostilities. The IIGEP rejects this opinion," it said in its report.

The panel said the government had neglected to investigate cases with vigour "where the conduct of its own forces has been called into question" and called for the establishment of a witness protection scheme.

After formally scrapping a six-year truce with the Tigers earlier this year in a wider bid to win the war militarily, the government banished Nordic truce monitors who had blamed troops and rebels for repeated abuses.

Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on one side or the other since the civil war, which has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.

(Reporting By Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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