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Video Of Sri Lankan Soldier Executing Tiger Rebel Is Genuine, Says UN

PTI 10 Jan 2010, 9:13:04 IST
PTI

The video footage which  shows Sri Lankan soldiers executing blindfolded and naked Tamils is genuine, a UN investigator has said.

Channel 4 aired the video last year in which, according to the Journalists for Democracy group, government troops can be seen killing unarmed, bound rebels during the army's final assault to smash the Tamil Tigers last year.

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said a forensic pathologist, a forensic video analyst and a firearms expert had all concluded that the video showed no evidence of having been doctored or staged, reports The Mail.

And he called for investigations to be held into possible war crimes and human rights violations during the fighting in Sri Lanka.

He said: 'In light of these conclusions and of the persistent flow of other allegations concerning alleged extrajudicial executions committed by both sides... I call for an independent inquiry to be established to carry out an impartial investigation.'

Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied that its forces were guilty of war crimes or human rights breaches in the final months of its 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The government has dismissed the Channel 4 video as a fake, but did announce it had created what it described as an independent inquiry to look into allegations of possible war crimes raised by the U.S. State Department and Mr Alston.

But last month, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who is challenging Mahinda Rajapaksa for the presidency, said that Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered that surrendering rebels should be killed rather than taken prisoner as the end of the conflict approached.

The video was shot by a Sri Lankan soldier in January 2009 using a mobile phone.

Experts concluded the footage of the apparent shootings showed the use of live ammunition, not blank cartridges, and there was no evidence that the images of two people being shot in the head at close range had been manipulated.

Alston, asked about the Sri Lankan inquiry, said he had no information about it and voiced scepticism about the ability of the government to conduct a proper probe.

He said allegations of war crimes on both sides should be investigated by a genuinely independent authority such as the UN, which has carried out similar inquiries elsewhere including one into a massacre in Guinea.

Alston, a human rights lawyer who teaches at New York University, said he hoped the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would take the expert assessment of the video footage seriously.

 Around 240,000 Tamils have been displaced into refugee camps as a result of the civil war.

The Secretary-General's spokesman Martin Nesirky said that a 'full and impartial investigation is critical', but indicated than an investigation of war crimes allegations should be handled by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Nesirky added that Ban Ki-moon had informed Sri Lanka that he was considering setting up an expert panel that would advise him on the matter and 'assist the government in taking measures to address possible violations'.

Although all three experts concluded that the video appears to be authentic, Mr Alston said they were unable to explain some details, such as the movement of certain victims, 17 frames at the end of the video and the fact that the date encoded in the video - July 17, 2009 - is well after the war was over.

A statement from the Sri Lankan government criticised Alston's findings. It said: 'There are no firm indications that the video is authentic.

The war against the Tamil Tiger rebels ended in May, with UN reports saying more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the final battles as government forces closed in. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Tamil civilians were trapped in a sprawling tent city along a northeastern coastal strip of the Indian Ocean island.

Last May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told an emergency meeting in Geneva that investigation was needed into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians during the intense fighting.

But a majority of the 47 countries on the UN Human Rights Council appeared unwilling to heed her appeal for a war crimes probe.

Months after winning the brutal civil war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is locked in a bitter election contest against the former army chief.

Mr Rajapaksa, a war hero among the Sinhalese majority, is ironically competing for Tamil votes - and dividing Sinhalese loyalties - against retired General Sarath Fonseka, who led the army to victory and is a surprise candidate.