Hundreds of Sri Lankan protesters have surrounded the United Nations offices in Colombo to demand the UN end investigations into alleged war crimes. They burned an effigy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in protest at his setting up of a human rights panel to look at the Sri Lankan war.
Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa led the march, urging people to besiege the UN compound in retaliation. Sri Lanka says the panel is not needed and denies troops committed war crimes. It has refused to grant visas to the panel’s three members, saying the investigation violates its sovereignty.
There have been consistent allegations that both the army – and Tamil Tigers rebels who troops routed last year – committed crimes at the end of the war.
About 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the war, according to the UN.
It says the panel, announced last month, will report back within four months and will advise on how to deal with alleged perpetrators of abuses.
The flag-waving protesters, led by Mr Weerawansa, set up a platform for a hunger strike at the UN office, the BBC’s Charles Haviland reports from the scene. Shouting slogans like “Ban Ki-Moon, US puppet” and “Down with special advisory panel”, they burnt an effigy of the UN secretary-general.
The protesters, many of them Buddhist monks, say their action will continue until the UN disbands the probe. “Patriotic Sri Lankan people will not allow that [the panel],” Mr Weerawansa told the BBC. “We are requesting Mr Ban Ki-Moon to withdraw his three-member panel.
“Until he withdraws it, we will stage continuous demonstrations and this hunger strike in front of the UN office in Colombo.
Meanwhile, the detained ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, who led the security forces in fighting the Tamil Tigers, has said he is not afraid to face the UN panel.
“As the then army commander I can candidly say the war was waged in line with international covenants and conventions. I fully support the military in this case,” Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror newspaper quoted him as saying.
There has been much international concern over the conduct of both sides in the latter stages of the war, which ended in May 2009.
Sri Lanka says it will hold its own internal inquiry, but the exact terms of reference are not clear.
International human rights groups are sceptical about the ability of the government to investigate claims impartially. They are demanding an independent investigation.
On Monday, the European Union announced it was withdrawing Sri Lanka’s preferential trade access to EU markets after it failed to improve its human rights record.