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Call for inquiry into final stages of Sri Lanka’s war

BANGALORE (CNS): Two Tamil bishops Bishop Rayappu Joseph from Mannar and Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam Emmanuel, from Jaffna, in Sri Lanka, joined a call for an independent inquiry into reported war crimes in the closing stages of the protracted war between the government and the rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (Tamil Tigers) in 2009. 

They reiterated the demand during a meeting with Stephen J. Rapp, the ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the United States of America’s (US) State Department Office of Global Criminal Justice, in early January.

Bishop Emmanuel, who hosted the meeting, told CNS, “We want to know what happened in the last few days of the war.” He said, “We had a general chat on the human rights concerns expressed by the people.” 

On January 12, the US embassy in Colombo called upon the Sri Lankan government to undertake an independent investigation and “seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions.” 

United Nations (UN) agencies estimate that more than 40,000 people belonging to ethnic minority Tamils died in May 2009 in the final stage of the war that ended with the decimation of rebels from the Tamil Tigers who had merged with fleeing civilians. 

Bishop Joseph said that even hospitals were attacked by Sri Lankan armed forces and cluster bombs were used in areas crowded by fleeing Tamil civilians as a war tactic. 

“A massive number of people were slain inside no-fire zones,” he said, 

The bishop added, “Just because LTTE (Tamil Tigers) was also there, you can’t execute a large number of civilians inside the no-fire zones. Even if the civilians were held as human shields, you can’t justify killing civilians.”

Sinhalese nationalist groups made a call for the arrest of the bishops after they raised questions about war crimes with Rapp.

Bishop Emmanuel noted that there are always adverse reactions “when we speak about unpleasant things.” He also alleged that a structural genocide was continuing in Tamil majority areas and that Tamil property was being appropriated by “government-aided colonisation schemes.” 

He said, “The international community should conduct an investigation to establish the truth... We are not asking this to take revenge on anyone in the government. We only want this for the betterment of this country.” 

 

Overall, Tamils account for 18 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million inhabitants. 

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