Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 5 News List

UN human rights official completes visit to Sri Lanka


The large numbers of people reported killed, abducted and disappeared in Sri Lanka's protracted civil war underscores the need for greater protection of human rights in the country, the top UN rights official said.

Meanwhile, Tamil Tiger rebels destroyed an army patrol craft and the military sank a rebel boat in a battle off northern Sri Lanka on Saturday, a defense official said. Three rebels died and three soldiers were missing, the official said.

International rights activists have accused the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels of brazen human rights violations in the more than two-decade-long war, and have called for a UN monitoring mission to be sent to the country.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour implied she would support such a mission, saying if her office were to send a team here, it would only be to promote human rights and help "establish a more credible and clearly independent voice."

"One of the major human rights shortcomings in Sri Lanka is rooted in the absence of reliable and authoritative information on the credible allegations of human rights abuses," she said at the end of a five-day mission to the country.

"In the context of the armed conflict and of the emergency measures taken against terrorism, the weakness of the rule of law and prevalence of impunity is alarming," she said.

Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who attended a news conference with Arbour, dismissed any type of monitoring mission.

Instead, Samarasinghe said the government was willing to work with Arbour's office and others in sharing technical expertise and training local staff to face human rights challenges.

Arbour said the government told her of its initiatives to address allegations of human rights abuses, but "there has yet to be an adequate and credible public accounting for the vast majority of these incidents."

The civil war has killed an estimated 70,000 people since it began in 1983. A ceasefire was reached in 2002 to pave the way for a peace deal between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a homeland for the Tamil minority, but it fell apart nearly two years ago.

The renewed fighting has killed an estimated 5,000 people. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in August that more than 1,100 abductions or "disappearances" were reported between January of last year and June of this year, many of them blamed on the government and its armed allies.

In Saturday's attack, rebel boats ambushed two army patrol craft off the Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka, considered the heartland of the Tamils and a major flashpoint in the war.

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