Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka rejects U.N. execution video report

News and Press Release
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* Foreign minister says government rejects allegations

* U.N. human rights boss backs independent inquiry

(Updates with Navi Pillay)

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka on Friday rejected the findings of a trio of United Nations-appointed investigators who said they doubted a video showing apparent executions by Sri Lankan soldiers was fake.

The reaction came after Philip Alston, U.N. special reporter on extrajudicial executions, on Thursday urged an independent inquiry after a forensic pathologist, a forensic video analyst and a firearms expert concluded the video was likely real.

Britain's Channel 4 television aired a video last year that it said shows government troops killing unarmed, naked, bound and blindfolded men during the army's final assault to smash the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The government immediately rejected it as a fraud perpetrated by Tamil Tiger supporters angry the separatist group had been defeated, and said its own investigation, using Sri Lankan civilian and military experts, had found it was doctored.

"We reject these allegations," Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said. "In light of those continued contradictory findings, we can't accept it."

He was referring to some details Alston said the experts were unable to explain, like the movement of certain victims, 17 frames at the end of the video and the fact that the date encoded in the video -- July 17, 2009 -- is a month after war ended.

Nonetheless, all three concluded the footage was probably genuine, Alston said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Sri Lanka on Friday to allow an independent investigation into the allegations that executions had taken place.

"Obviously if the Sri Lankan armed forces and Sri Lankan government have done nothing wrong, it will have nothing to fear from an international investigation," her spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We believe a full and impartial investigation is critical if we're going to confront all the very big question marks that hang over this war," he said.


A credible independent inquiry would be in the "best interests" of Sri Lanka, Colville said.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, called last May for an international investigation to assess whether Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels committed war crimes in the last burst of their conflict.

Bogollagama said that the government was still probing the video and other allegations of war crimes through a presidential panel of Sri Lankan experts. Alston has voiced doubts that a Sri Lankan probe will be impartial.

"We are not instantly dismissing anything. That cannot be done by a government," Bogollagama said. "The government is examining their allegations."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Thursday that an investigation should be done but would best be handled by Pillay's office. However, he added that Ban was considering appointing his own expert panel to advise him and assist the Sri Lankan government in following up on any war crimes that may have been committed.

Colville told Reuters: "We would help in any way we could or were asked to do."

In the past year, Pillay's office has played a role in major investigations into alleged war crimes by Israeli forces in Gaza and into a massacre in the West African nation Guinea.

Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied that its forces were guilty of war crimes or human rights breaches in the last months of its 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government declared total victory in May.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Bryson Hull)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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