Sri Lanka lifts UN ban


Sri Lanka said today it would allow the United Nations to send a representative to a locally appointed war crimes panel, reversing an earlier ban on international involvement, but analysts said the move would do little to add credibility to the commission.

The island nation had rejected a three-member UN panel by Ban Ki-moon to look into possible war crimes in the 25-year war and ruled out visas for members of the panel if they wanted to visit Sri Lanka for any investigations.

But a statement by the foreign ministry said the government would now welcome U.N. involvement in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a local panel appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to probe the end of the war and which has been criticised by human rights groups as lacking independence.

"In the event of the panel of the Secretary-General wishing to present representations to the commission, the Ministry of External Affairs will make the arrangements that are necessary to enable the panel to do so," the Ministry said in a statement.

"This position has already been conveyed through diplomatic channels, to the United Nations in New York," the ministry added, without giving any details.

Analysts described the government statement as a small, and ineffectual, concession to demands by Western governments and human rights groups for an international probe into the military's May 2009 crushing defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists after a quarter-century of civil war.

Sri Lanka's failure to set up an independent probe into the alleged war crimes has already cost the island nation $150 million worth trade concession from the European Union annually. Economists also said it is hampering foreign investment.

"There is no point of UN panel coming here, if it is only allowed to meet only the LLRC and not allowed to meet the civil society and people affected by the war and to travel around the country," said a political analyst asking not to be named fearing repercussions.

"The submissions the LLRC have got is mostly on reconciliation for the future and not what happened in the last day of the war. The U.N. panel is meant to see what happened in the last day of the war."

Human rights groups, Tamil pressure groups overseas and some Western governments accuse the government of responsibility for what they say are thousands of civilian deaths or other atrocities that could constitute war crimes.

Allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military against Tamil rebels resurfaced after President Rajapaksa's recent visit to Britain, where a university cancelled his speech after protests by Tamil groups.

US diplomatic cables, released by the Wikileaks website, also put the alleged human rights abuses in the spotlight, revealing that the United States believes there is little prospect Sri Lanka will hold anyone accountable for the bloody end of the war because of the top government figures involved.