UN chief urges war crimes probe in Sri Lanka

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. chief lent credence Friday to the possibility of war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying an international investigation is needed to examine the military actions of the government and defeated Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a closed-door briefing for Security Council members, called for a credible inquiry to be undertaken with international backing and full support from Sri Lanka's government.

He declined to elaborate on exactly how the inquiry should be done, but he urged an examination of what he said were serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian laws, according to diplomats and U.N. officials who attended.

"Any inquiry, to be meaningful, should be supported by the members of the United Nations, and also should be very impartial and objective," Ban told reporters Friday at U.N. headquarters.

"I would like to ask the Sri Lankan government to recognize the international call for accountability and full transparency," he said. "And whenever and wherever there are credible allegations of violations of humanitarian law, there should be a proper investigation."

Sri Lanka has rejected either an international or joint investigation, saying civil war is a domestic issue.

The country's human rights minister said a domestic fact-finding process would be held as part of reconciliation efforts with ethnic minority Tamils, but he said he doubted the U.N. secretary-general actually meant to call for an international investigation.

"He is not talking about an international probe at all," Mahinda Samarasinghe said.

Samarasinghe noted that 29 members of the U.N.'s human rights council had rejected such an investigation last month. "This is an indication of the feeling of the international community. Members of the U.N. are the members of the human rights council as well."

The U.N. Security Council met informally Friday rather than in its usual chambers to allow Sri Lanka's U.N. Ambassador Hewa M.G.S. Palihakkara to attend without requiring a formal agenda item.

Ban said he also told the council that Sri Lanka must refrain from any victory dance after routing the Tamil rebels last month and ending a quarter century of civil war.

"It is very important at this time to unite and heal the wounds, rather than enjoy all this triumphalism in the wake of the end of conflict," he said.

What options the United Nations has for ensuring a credible investigation remains unclear. U.N. officials say at least 7,000 civilians died in the war's final stages and put the number of deaths since the war began in 1983 at 80,000 to 100,000.

Sri Lanka's government has not released estimates of civilian deaths. It originally said no noncombatants died in the army's final push against the trapped rebels, but recently said any civilian deaths were the result of insurgent firing.

Some 300,000 Tamils are in displacement camps, and aid groups have been seeking access to them.

in Bulgaria. AP