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Sri Lanka angered by new calls to investigate war crimes

March 13, 2012 |  9:55 am

Pro-government protest in Sri Lanka

Nearly three years after the end of a bloody war that endured for a quarter-century, Sri Lanka faces new calls to investigate alleged war crimes and stop what is called a continuing pattern of shadowy disappearances and detentions.

The accusations have angered Sri Lankan officials, who say outsiders are meddling and fostering future terrorism.

Amnesty International charges in a new report that Sri Lanka continues to lock up suspected rebels without evidence, leaving them to languish in prison “without bothering to prosecute and prove to a court that they have indeed broken the law.” Torture and disappearances also continue, the report says.

“I was beaten and questioned at least every week by different soldiers,” a 17-year-old is quoted as saying. The young man also said he was burned with cigarettes and forced to sign documents he couldn’t read.

His story is similar to others gathered by the group.

Sri Lanka must reform its detention laws, shut down secret detention centers and inform all those arrested of the allegations against them, Amnesty International argues.

“The security regime that was a hallmark of war continues after the [rebels'] defeat -- little has changed," said Sam Zarifi, the organization's Asia-Pacific director.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is slated to vote next week on a resolution drafted by the United States that calls for Sri Lanka to hold people accountable for war crimes. Eileen Chamberlain Donohue, the U.S. ambassador to the council, said the point was not to condemn Sri Lanka but to “sow the seeds of lasting peace.”

Sri Lankan officials argue that the problems should be dealt with internally. U.N. action “would only lead to derailing the ongoing reconciliation process that has been put in place by the government,” Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris wrote in a letter to Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former archbishop from South Africa.

In the throes of protests organized by the government, one minister argued that Sri Lankans should boycott U.S. brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, KFC and McDonald’s to protest the proposed resolution.

“If we submit to this resolution, Tiger terrorists will raise their head again,” Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa said at a Tuesday protest, the Associated Press reported. “We must show our protest even in a small manner to the U.S. for the ill-treatment they are throwing at us.”

The war raged in Sri Lanka for more than two decades as Tamil Tiger rebels fought for a separate state for the ethnic Tamil people, striking with bloody suicide attacks. The movement was defeated by government forces in 2009.

Both sides were accused of trampling on human rights in the lengthy conflict: The Sri Lankan military intentionally shelled hospitals and aid agencies, a U.N. panel found last year. Rebels, in turn, forced Tamil people to fight and used civilians as a human buffer, the panel said.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: In the city of Colombo, pro-government Sri Lankans on Tuesday protest an upcoming resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Credit: M.A. Pushpa Kumara / EPA

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