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Sri Lanka president defiant on rights inquiry

Rajapaksa says his government needs time to investigate allegations of human rights abuses dating back to civil war.

Last updated: 17 Nov 2013 02:00
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David Cameron visited Sri Lanka's war-torn north on a fact-finding mission on Friday [Reuters]

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa says his government needs time to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, dating back to the civil war that ended four years ago.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's demand for an independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes at the end of the 26-year-old civil war drew an angry response from the island nation's president on Saturday.

"People who are in glass houses must not throw stones," Rajapaksa said, after Cameron said Sri Lanka should conduct its own investigation by March next year or face an international inquiry.

Earlier, a senior Sri Lanka's minister said the government would not allow an international probe, despite mounting pressure from abroad.

"Why should we have an international inquiry? We will object to it ... Definitely, we are not going to allow it," Basil Rajapakse, the economic development minister and brother of the president, told AFP news agency.

Press freedom under threat in Sri Lanka

Asked about the March deadline for the Sri Lankans to complete their own inquiry, the minister rejected any talk of a timetable being imposed from outside.

"They can't give dates. It is not fair. Even Cameron has said we need time. Even in Northern Ireland it took a lot of time," he said.

Cameron visited the former war zone of Jaffna in the north of the country and urged Rajapaksa to do more to seek reconciliation and devolve power to the Tamils.

Denials of civilian onslaught

The Sri Lankan president made a veiled reference to the Bloody Sunday shootings, when British soldiers killed 14 unarmed protesters in 1972.

"We have done what we can but there are other countries after 40 years they still couldn't publish a report," he said. Britain published the results of an inquiry into the killings in 2010.

The Rajapakse regime has consistently denied any civilians were killed in the last stages of the war when government troops routed Tamil Tiger rebels in their last stronghold.

However, the UN and rights groups have said as many as 40,000 civilians might have been killed in the onslaught.

Cameron said he was moved by the "harrowing" testimony of survivors, who he met during his trip to the war-torn northern Jaffna region on Friday to meet local Tamils, only hours after a Commonwealth summit began in Colombo.

"We understand some of the things he said were aimed at his home constituency. He was addressing the journalists who travelled with him," said Rajapakse, thanking Cameron for attending the summit.

The prime ministers of Canada, India and Mauritius all stayed away from Colombo over Sri Lanka's human rights record.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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