Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankan video footage raises US concern

REUTERS , UNITED NATIONS

The US voiced grave concern on Wednesday about video footage that a Sri Lankan group says shows government soldiers summarily executing Tamil rebels in violation of international law.

“These reports are very disturbing, they are of grave concern,” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters. “We’d like more information as we formulate our own national response.”

Rice was reacting to video footage aired last week on British television which, according to a Sri Lankan advocacy group, shows government forces executing unarmed, naked, bound and ­blindfolded Tamils during the army’s final assault to smash Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year.

The Sri Lankan government has dismissed the video as fake.

Rice, who holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council during this month, said it was not yet clear whether the council would take up the issue.

“I’m not aware of a council member proposing that this be discussed on the council agenda but obviously these reports are very fresh and that could change,” she said.

Previous attempts to formally raise the issue of Sri Lanka’s conduct during the final months of its 25-year war against the Tamil Tiger rebels met resistance from Russia and China, who opposed official council discussion of an issue they said was an internal matter for the Sri Lankan government.

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said on Tuesday he hoped the UN would launch an investigation to determine whether Sri Lankan soldiers did in fact summarily execute Tamils, which would be a violation of international law.

Alston acknowledged there was no certainty the video was authentic. Britain’s Channel 4 television said it got the footage from ­advocacy group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

“There’s nothing on the surface to indicate that it is not authentic and, if that’s the case, it would raise very grave concerns,” Alston said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN took all reports of serious human rights violations and war crimes with the “utmost concern” and that the Channel 4 video was “no exception.”

Sri Lanka’s government has repeatedly denied that its forces were guilty of war crimes or human rights breaches during the last months of its war against the Liberation ­Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whom it defeated in May.

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes has said several thousand civilians were killed during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, when the rebels retreated to a narrow strip of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka.

The rebels brought hundreds of thousands of Tamils with them, whom UN officials said were used as human shields.

UN and Western officials accused Sri Lanka of using heavy artillery to shell areas that it knew were heavily populated with civilians, killing many of them in the process. Colombo denied the allegation.

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