British Prime Minister David Cameron has called on the Sri Lankan government to make more progress on addressing human rights issues, as the country continues to defy calls for an independent inquiry into its 27-year civil war.
Cameron pledged on Saturday to push for a UN-led investigation into alleged war crimes and rights abuses, committed during and after the war, if Sri Lanka did not address the concerns by March.
Cameron said he held a “frank” discussion with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, on Friday after skipping the first day of a Commonwealth summit to travel to Sri Lanka’s war-torn north on a fact-finding mission.
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“Not everything I said was accepted, but I sense they do want to make progress on these issues and it will help frankly by having international pressure,” Cameron said.
Nimal Siripala de Silva, Sri Lanka’s water minister, said on Saturday that the country would “resist” an international inquiry.
The Sri Lankan government is under mounting pressure to accept such an inquiry.
It has rejected a UN report that suggested Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated armed forces may have killed up to 40,000 minority Tamils towards the end of the war in 2009.
Ethnic Tamil rebels have themselves been accused of killing civilians, using them as human shields and forcibly recruiting child soldiers.
Recent reports of media harassment and rights abuses have also raised alarms.
Officials in Colombo have expressed frustration at what they saw as interference from abroad in the run-up to a Commonwealth heads of government meeting that they are hosting, and said the country was on a path to reconciliation, aided by strong economic growth.
The government has also dismissed accusations of ongoing rights violations, which it said were part of a campaign by rebel sympathisers to tarnish its image and detract from the summit.
However, Cameron said the world would be watching to see that those who spoke out in Jaffna would not be targeted by the authorities.