US bans visits by Sri Lanka army chief over war crimes

US bans visits by Sri Lanka army chief over war crimes
US bans visits by Sri Lanka army chief over war crimes

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday it would refuse entry to Sri Lanka's army chief over "credible" evidence of human rights violations in the bloody 2009 finale to the civil war.

Lt .Gen. Shavendra Silva, whose appointment last year drew wide international criticism, will be ineligible to visit the United States, as will his immediate family, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"The allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible," Pompeo said in a statement.

"We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform, and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation," he said.

Silva was the commanding officer of an army division in the island's northern war-zone in the final months of the military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

Rights groups say some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed in mass atrocities as government forces seized Sri Lanka's predominantly Tamil north.

The United Nations, in a report into the allegations, said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

The 2009 offensive delivered a death blow to the Tamil Tigers, whose nearly four-decade campaign for a separate homeland had killed 100,000 people and was characterized by the rebels' bloody suicide attacks.

Pompeo nonetheless said that the United States hoped to maintain security cooperation with Sri Lanka, which last year was rocked by Easter Sunday bombings by Islamist extremists.

"We deeply value our partnership with the Sri Lankan government and the long-standing democratic tradition we share with the Sri Lankan people," Pompeo said.

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

Sri Lanka arrests ex-envoy

to Russia over MiG deal

In Colombo, Sri Lanka arrested a former ambassador to Russia after he was extradited from Friday to face money laundering charges over a controversial MiG aircraft purchase, police said.

Udayanga Weeratunga was taken before a magistrate in Colombo who remanded him in custody till Monday pending a further hearing.

Police in a statement said Weeratunga, who is also closely related to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's family, was arrested in connection with an investigation into the Sri Lankan military's 2006 purchase of four second-hand MiG-27 aircraft from Ukraine.

There had been an international warrant for his arrest. At the time of the purchase, President Rajapaksa was the secretary to the Ministry of Defense. Weeratunga was Sri Lanka's ambassador to Russia from 2006 till former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's election defeat in January 2015.

The MiG-27 ground attack aircraft formed part of the military's armoury in crushing separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and ending the island's 37-year-long ethnic war by May 2009.

Weeratunga has been accused of kickbacks in the aircraft deal, but he has denied any wrongdoing. — AFP

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