"It may be an LTTE cadre shooting an army man" - Mahinda bluntly denies charge of war crimes


BY S VENKAT NARAYAN - Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, July 23: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has bluntly denied the charge that his securitty forces had committed "war crimes" against unarmed Tamil civilians during the last stages of the socalled Eelam War that ended 26 months ago.

In an interview to The Hindu newspaper published today, he simply dismissed British TV Channel 4’s controversial documentary "Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields" by calling it a "film."

A panel of United Nations experts and global media have been insisting that at least 10,000 to 40,000 unarmed Tamil civilians may have been killed during the last phase of the war, which ended with the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in the Northern Province on May 18, 2009.

The newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief N Ram asked the president about the allegations of human rights violations and the much-debated documentary, which showed gruesome and distressing footage and charged that the Sri Lankan army and government had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final stage of the war against the LTTE.

Rajapaksa referred to the footage showing close-range executions of naked men with their hands tied behind their backs, and asserted: "It has been filmed in Tamil. If the footage is true, it was not the LTTE cadres who were being shot. It must be the army boys who were (being) shot (by LTTE cadres)."

The President explained: "The man who is shooting, his belt is not the army belt. It is the LTTE belt. If it (what is shown in the documentary) is true, the LTTE cadre is shooting an army man. If it is not true, it’s a film. It is not a true documentary. We are looking into the matter."

He said allegations supported by evidence will be enquired into. "The LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) has already requested (for) the original of this (footage). We said if anybody had any evidence against any police officer or army officer, at any time, we are ready to look into it. This can be from top to bottom."

Rajapaksa expressed happiness over Sri Lankan High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam’s meeting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa on Thursday.

He said: "I asked our High Commissioner, and he has conveyed my invitation to the chief minister to visit Sri Lanka. If she is not ready or is busy, she can send a parliamentary team. She can speak to the central government (of India) and I am ready to accept that. Parliamentarians not only from Tamil Nadu but also from other areas, the whole of India, can visit the North and see for themselves."

When Ram asked him about the absence of an enduring political solution to the Tamil question even 26 months after the war with the LTTE ended, the President said: "I have asked my party and others to propose a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into a political solution, any amendments to the Constitution. Whatever the Parliamentary Committee recommends to me, I will accept. And, ultimately, it has to go to Parliament."

Asked about complaints that the armed forces are expanding their footprint in Jaffna and other Northern districts, and apprehensions of a permanent militarisation of the North, Rajapaksa said: "I don’t think so....Even in the South we have army camps in Hambantota, in Colombo, in every province, every district. In that way, we will have camps in the North and East."

At this stage, his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga supplemented with the comment: "It is not an occupation army. That is important."

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