November 28, 2018 / 5:12 PM / 14 days ago

Sri Lanka's top military man in court over role in war-time abductions

COLOMBO (Reuters) - After evading arrest for two months, Sri Lanka’s most senior military official appeared in court on Wednesday, charged with helping another suspect in the abduction and disappearance of 11 youths in the final phase of the country’s 26-year civil war.

Chief of Defense Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne will now be held in detention till Dec. 5 pending further investigations into whether he aided and abetted the prime suspect in the case.

Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake refused to offer bail to Wijegunaratne, an admiral and former chief of the navy, saying the suspect might seek to hamper investigations into the case.

“There could be influence on the investigators and witnesses given the position of the second suspect,” Dissanayake told the court.

Wijegunaratne’s lawyer denied the allegations against his client.

The inquiry into the abduction of 11 youths in 2008 has been closely monitored by international rights groups as Sri Lanka tries to address past rights abuses.

Many people are believed to have been abducted in 2006-2008 - the final phase of the civil war - by government paramilitary personnel under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration for alleged links to Tamil Tiger rebels.

Rajapaksa himself has been accused of war crimes by international rights groups, and the U.N. has asked for a thorough investigation into alleged human rights violations.

Rajapaksa, who was appointed as prime minister last month before being rejected by parliament in two confidence votes, has denied the allegations.

There are no clear records of the missing from the nearly 26-year conflict, but a missing person’s commission has received 20,000 complaints.

Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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