Govt. recognises UN probe; Wimal furious

Conflicting reports over the visit of three-member panel

The Government yesterday granted official recognition to the United Nations panel probing alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka by allowing its three members to come to Colombo for a meeting with the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The announcement of the visit was made at a news conference in New York on Friday by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He said this was the result of “long consultations” he held with President Rajapaksa and hence “the Panel of Experts is now able to visit Sri Lanka and meet” with the LLRC. He said, “I appreciate the flexibility of President Rajapaksa on this issue.”

His remarks came after a journalist asked for comments on the LLRC over reports that it has been below standard and had received testimony from only a fairly “small fraction of the population.”

Presidential spokesman Lucien Rajakarunanayake told the Sunday Times, “our position is that all arrangements will be made for the panel to make representations before the LLRC. This position has been conveyed through diplomatic channels to the UN, as announced by the External Affairs Ministry.”
However, UN sources in Colombo said the panel “has no plans to make representations” but would interact with members of the LLRC on subjects that are of common interest to both. “It would not be correct to say they have any representations to make,” the source added. Earlier, the Government had termed the UN panel “illegal” and declared it would refuse visas to them. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris argued it had no legal validity and did not have the approval of the UN General Assembly. The three members of the panel also came in for bitter criticism in the state-run media.

The visit of the panel has angered Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who had earlier gone on a three-day fast before the UN office in Colombo, asking the UN Secretary General to withdraw the probe.

Mr. Weerawansa told the Sunday Times yesterday, “The government was opposed to the panel coming here when they made a request earlier. They said no visas would be issued. We do not accept that the panel’s objective is to advise Ban Ki-moon on accountability issues in Sri Lanka.

They have their personal agendas. If we allow them to come, it would be accepting their position. They should not be allowed to come here. The External Affairs Ministry should continue to maintain that stance.”

On June 22 this year, Mr. Ban appointed a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the separatist war in May, last year. The Government launched a strong diplomatic offensive in an attempt to call off the panel. Attorney General Mohan Peiris, who went as special envoy, held a meeting with the UN Secretary General to call off the three-member panel on the grounds that the matters at issue were being probed by the LLRC.

Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman is the chairman of this panel. The other two members are Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States. Originally the panel was expected to wrap up its task within four months of starting work. However, it has now been given time till December 31.

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