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UN sets Sri Lanka probe conditions

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said he will only launch an international investigation into allegations of possible war crimes during the final stages of the Sri Lanka's civil war two years ago if the government agrees, which is highly unlikely, or member states call for a probe.

A UN statement publicly releasing a report by a UN panel said the secretary-general has been advised that he needs government consent or a decision from member states in an international forum. He did not specify a forum but it could include the UN Security Council, General Assembly or Human Rights Council.

The panel called on the secretary-general to immediately establish "an independent international mechanism" to investigate what it called credible allegations that both the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels committed serious violations, including some that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the months before the decades-long war ended in May 2009.

The panel, which gathered evidence for 10 months, said tens of thousands died in just the last five months of the war that ended in May 2009. "Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling," it said. It asked the Human Rights Council to reconsider a resolution that was defeated just days after the end of the war that called for an investigation of abuse allegations.

The secretary-general had sent the report to the Sri Lankan government on April 12 so that he could include its response when the report was officially released. Instead, the report was leaked to The Island newspaper in Sri Lanka on April 17, and the government issued a statement calling it "fundamentally flawed and patently biased" and "presented without any verification."

Mr Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, noted in Monday's statement that the Sri Lankan government has not responded to his offer to respond to the report "which nonetheless still stands."

The panel called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately begin "genuine investigations" into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides.

Mr Ban supported the recommendation, saying "that Sri Lanka should, first and foremost, assume responsibility for ensuring accountability for the alleged violations" and encouraged the government "to respond constructively."

Under intense international pressure to investigate abuses, Sri Lanka did appoint a Lessions Learnt and Reconciliation Commission last year, but the UN panel said that body does not meet international standards and is compromised by the conflict of interest of several members.

Sri Lanka warned the United Nations last Thursday that publicly releasing the report could harm efforts at post-war ethnic reconciliation.

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