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Sri Lanka to probe alleged wartime human rights abuses

Sri Lanka promised to conduct its own human rights inquiry after the EU and US released reports on abuse last week. But critics say the government may whitewash its findings.

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Sri Lanka has responded to mounting international criticisms of its wartime conduct by announcing it will appoint a "homegrown" committee to probe alleged human rights abuses.

Critics fear, however, that a local inquiry will fail to uncover what really went on as the island's hard-line Sinhalese government prosecuted its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group that fought for a homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

Previous government-appointed inquiries into human rights violations have yielded few facts, while international human rights groups have been expelled from the island. With this history, some international observers worry that the inquiry has been announced to silence international criticism and that a government-appointed probe may result in a whitewash.

Barrage of reports detailing abuse

Since it declared the end of its 25-year war against the LTTE in May, Sri Lanka has faced growing calls to investigate reports of government-ordered abuses of civilians.

Last Thursday, the US State Department submitted a report to Congress that described alleged abuses by the Sri Lankan Army as well as rebels.

That report – compiled from intelligence findings as well as testimonies from charities, media, and foreign government sources – detailed claims that Army forces abducted and killed Tamil civilians and bombed no-fire zones. Though its sources are believed to be credible, the State Department says its report does not constitute official allegations of war crimes and it urges a full investigation.

Three days earlier the European Union had published a report cataloguing government-backed human rights abuses including torture and police violence. "Unlawful killings are a major problem in Sri Lanka, perpetrated by soldiers, police, paramilitary groups or others, not only during the course of active hostilities," it said.

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