Sri Lankan troops barred from UN peacekeeping over new army chief

Shavendra Silva was appointed Sri Lankan army chief last month, drawing criticism for his role in alleged war crimes.

    Silva is credited with successfully leading an army division in the final phases of the island nation's brutal civil war [File: Reuters]
    Silva is credited with successfully leading an army division in the final phases of the island nation's brutal civil war [File: Reuters]

    The United Nations will no longer deploy Sri Lankan troops for its peacekeeping missions after the Indian Ocean island nation appointed a war veteran accused of serious human rights violations as army chief.

    Shavendra Silva, 55, was appointed chief in August, drawing sharp criticism from the United States and the UN, which on Wednesday said would suspend deployment of Sri Lankan troops over the appointment.

    "We have expressed our concern to the government of Sri Lanka over the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva to the position of commander of the Sri Lanka Army despite well-documented, credible allegations of his involvement in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

    "In light of this appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations is, therefore, suspending future Sri Lankan army deployments except where suspension would expose UN operations to serious operational risk," said Haq.

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    Silva is credited with successfully leading an army division against dissident Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in the final phases of the island nation's 26-year-long brutal civil war.

    His victory, however, was highly controversial, as thousands of civilians were killed in the last phases of the conflict.

    According to the UN, some 45,000 ethnic Tamil civilians might have been killed in the last months of the war, while other estimates put the number much higher.

    'Grave abuses' 

    In a 2015 UN report, published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR), the Sri Lankan forces were accused of "grave abuses" that included unlawful killings, sexual and gender-based violence, torture and attacks on humanitarian facilities.

    According to the report, the army division led by Silva shelled a hospital and a UN hub in Putumattalan, a city they were tasked to recapture from the Tamil Tigers.

    The OHCHR alleges that during the last months of the offensive, hospitals were shelled repeatedly, during which patients were forced to escape, some even carrying their intravenous drips with them.

    The attack on humanitarian facilities by armed forces were not "isolated incidents", and "in some cases may have deliberately targeted the facilities," the report said. 

    The OHCHR noted that "many of the structures responsible for the violations and crimes remain in place".

    Silva, who joined the army in 1984 and had been its chief of staff since January, denied the accusations. 

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    Following his appointment in August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Silva's promotion "severely compromises Sri Lanka's commitment to promote justice and accountability".

    The US expressed its disapproval of Silva's appointment in a strongly worded statement, saying "the allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organisations, are serious and credible".

    Silva was named head of the army after the term of the previous chief, Mahesh Senanayake, ended in July.

    The Sri Lankan president's office and the military media unit did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the criticism.

    Various countries contribute forces to UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies