Sri Lanka’s new government is to launch a fresh investigation into charges of human rights abuses in the final bloody days of the country’s civil war in 2009 when scores of civilians were killed.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was ousted in a surprise election defeat last month, had refused to cooperate with any U.N. investigation into claims the army committed atrocities in the war that ended in 2009.
Without some accountability for civilian deaths, the United Nations argues there will be no lasting reconciliation to allow Sri Lanka to move on from the war that dragged on for decades as ethnic Tamil rebels battled for autonomy in the island’s north and east.
“We are thinking of having our own inquiry acceptable to them to the international standards,” Rajitha Senaratne, a government spokesman, told a forum of foreign correspondents in Colombo, referring to the United Nations.
“It will be a new local inquiry. If we need, we will bring some foreign experts.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in November accused Rajapaksa’s government of trying to “sabotage” its own investigation and creating a “wall of fear” to prevent witnesses from giving evidence to its inquiry set up in March.
About 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war, most of them by the Sri Lankan army, the United Nations estimated in a 2011 report.
Sri Lanka has rejected the accusations and has been conducting its own investigation.
Newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena in the run up to the vote promised a new investigation under an independent judiciary, but rejected demands for an international inquiry.
This week, he sent his senior adviser on foreign relations to meet U.N. officials to discuss the investigation, government sources said.
Senaratne also said the government was looking at releasing political prisoners, mainly suspected members of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebel group.
Meanwhile, the government has launched an investigation into claims that the military was trying to create unrest in the former war zones in the north and east of the country.
Mr Sirisena’s government has promised to give greater autonomy to the mainly Tamil northern peninsula, which was worst hit by the thirty-year civil war, and remained heavily militarized under the former administration.
The government said it was investigating allegations that two senior military officers were training 400 troops to provoke unrest in Jaffna, capital of the northern province.
“We have information that saboteurs are being trained in small batches of 10 at a time and they are being deployed in Jaffna,” Senaratne said.
Senaratne said the men had been ordered to carry out small-scale incidents across the former conflict zone to give the impression that the new government had no control.
Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena has moved quickly to reduce the role of the military in Jaffna since he was elected on January 8, sacking the retired army general who ran the province and replacing him with a former diplomat.
The country’s Tamil minority voted in large numbers for Sirisena, whose predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse oversaw the crushing of the separatist Tamil Tigers.
Rajapakse’s regime won popularity for ending the conflict, but he was blamed for failing to ensure ethnic reconciliation between the Tamils and the island’s Sinhalese majority.
Senaratne said senior military officers had been in contact with the former president’s brother, ex-defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, about the alleged bid to destabilize Jaffna.
He also said the new government would return land taken from Tamil residents in Jaffna for commercial exploitation by the military.
He said there was no justification for the military to retain seized land in the area, where it has established hotels, restaurants and farms.
An army spokesman said the complaint had been brought to the attention of military chief Daya Ratnayake, but declined to comment on the allegation.
The authorities are already investigating claims that Rajapakse tried to use military force to remain in power as election results showed he was headed for defeat.
Police have questioned several people, including the then chief justice Mohan Peiris, who was removed from his post this week.
The government has already committed to granting limited autonomy to Tamils in line with a 1987 law that has never been fully implemented.