Australia pressured to investigate Sri Lanka envoy for war crimes

Sri Lanka’s Canberra high commissioner, former admiral  Thisara Samarasinghe was the navy’s eastern and then northern  areas commander, as well as chief of staff, in the last months  of the war, during which naval ships allegedly fired on  civilians as they fled the conflict, the paper said.

“The report … is extremely serious,” said Lee Rhiannon, a  senator Australia’s influential Greens Party, which backs Prime  Minister Julia Gillard’s minority Labor government.

“With a delegation from Sri Lanka, headed up by their  President Mahinda Rajapaksa due to arrive shortly in Perth for  CHOGM, the Australia government can no longer refuse to take  action.”

Australia’s government, already wallowing in opinion polls,  will be reluctant to add a diplomatic upset to domestic concerns  about carbon taxes and border security already worrying voters.

Samarasinghe told The Age that all of his and the navy’s  actions in the final months of fighting were legal under the  rules of conflict.

“There is no truth whatsoever of allegations of misconduct  or illegal behaviour. The Sri Lanka Navy did not fire at  civilians during any stage and all action was taken to save the  lives [of] civilians from clutches of terrorists,” he said.

There was no evidence Samarasinghe was directly involved in  or gave orders for shelling, The Age said, but the submission  before Australian police stated that military superiors held “a  command responsibility” for the actions of subordinates.

Amnesty International last month said between 10,000 and  20,000 civilians were killed in the war’s last months, but a  national inquiry has failed so far to investigate war crimes by  both the army and Tamil rebels. .

Sri Lanka deflected a Western-led push for a war crimes  investigation at recent U.N. Human Rights Council sessions.  Western nations are still calling for an independent probe for  killing thousands of civilians in May 2009.

A United Nations advisory panel’s report says there is  “credible evidence” that both sides committed war crimes, which  the government hotly contests. Many of the allegations  originated with pro-Tamil Tiger sources or propaganda outlets.

Canada has publicly criticized Sri Lanka over its human  rights record, setting the scene for a confrontation at the  Commonwealth summit next week, at which human rights protesters  have also promised to target “war criminals and parasites” among  leaders.

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