Alleged war criminal named second-in-command of Sri Lanka army

Silva took part in a massive assault in 2009, during which the Sri Lankan army committed gross abuses against civilians.

    Silva was accused of committing war crimes during Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009 [File: Reuters]
    Silva was accused of committing war crimes during Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009 [File: Reuters]

    Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a general accused by the United Nations of war crimes to the country's second-highest army ranking, evoking an outcry from rights groups.

    Major General Shavendra Silva was accused of committing war crimes during the civil war in Sri Lanka, which ended after 37 years in 2009.

    Silva took part in a massive assault on Tamil Tiger separatists in the war, during which the Sri Lankan army committed gross abuses against civilians. 

    Silva formally assumed the duties of his new position on Thursday, the army said in a statement.

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    Human rights organisation International Truth & Justice Project (ITJP), which has focused its work on atrocities committed during the Sri Lankan civil war, called the appointment "a shocking new low for Sri Lanka".

    "Major General Shavendra Silva was named by a United Nations investigation for his part in commanding the 58 Division, which was the unit responsible for repeated and deliberate attacks on hospitals, food distribution queues and displacement camps in 2009, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths in a matter of months," a statement by the organisation said.

    According to Yasmin Sooka, the executive director of ITJP, Silva could and should be arrested if he ever travels abroad in his current role.

    "Sri Lanka now has a chief of army staff who risks arrest every time he travels abroad, if any country is foolish enough to give him a visa," said Sooka.

    The statement added that "there is more than enough evidence to charge him for international crimes should the opportunity arise".

    "This is arguably the most wanted man in Sri Lanka. A decade on, tragically, he is being promoted instead of standing trial."

    A number of Sri Lankan army generals have been denied visas to travel to Western nations over their alleged role in attacks against civilians.

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    President Sirisena said Silva's "experience and leadership will bring strength and courage" to Sri Lanka's armed forces.

    According to rights groups, at least 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces during their final push to defeat the separatist rebels.

    Sri Lanka's successive governments have resisted calls for an independent investigation into the conduct of troops during the final months of the conflict.

    President Sirisena came to power in January 2015, promising justice for war victims but his administration has been accused of dithering ever since.

    Sirisena, unlike his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, agreed to investigate war crimes but no generals have stood trial or been brought to justice.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies