Sri Lankan army chief Shavendra Silva looks on during an event at the army head quarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka February 3, 2020. Picture taken February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lanka angry over US decision to ban army chief

COLOMBO (Arab News): Sri Lanka has objected to a US decision to ban its army chief from entering the country over accusations of his involvement with human rights violations during the island’s civil war.

Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was elevated to the army’s second-highest position of chief of staff in January 2019 before his promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan Army.

He commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists and has been accused by the UN of war crimes during the conflict’s final stages. The government said it strongly objected to the imposition of travel restrictions on Silva and his immediate family members “based on independently unverified information.”

It was responding to tweets from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying he was “designating Silva making him ineligible for entry into the US due to his involvement in extrajudicial killings during Sri Lanka’s Civil War.” Citing examples of other foreign officials who were involved in similar cases, Pompeo said that those individuals and their immediate family members were also barred from entering the US.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations said that Silva was appointed as army chief after taking his seniority into account and that there were “no substantiated or proven allegations” of human rights violations against him.

“It is disappointing that a foreign government would question the prerogative of the democratically elected president to call upon persons with proven expertise to hold key positions on national security related matters,” the ministry added.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a decades-long war that killed 100,000 people. There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.

The US said it would continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them.

“Today’s actions underscore our commitment to support human rights, promote accountability for perpetrators, and encourage reconciliation in support of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Sri Lanka,” Pompeo added.

M.A. Sumanthiran, a spokesman for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that his organization had forewarned the government about problems if it were to appoint Silva as the army chief, especially since he was responsible for human rights violations and war crimes during the final phase of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. “The TNA trusts that the US decision will be an eye-opener for the government to be conscious of international lobbying against atrocities,” he told Arab News.

International lobbyist and human rights activist Muheed Jiran said the US had made an error by not thoroughly investigating all the allegations.

“It is not a pragmatic solution to the problem and it is unfair to accuse one person in the whole operations that took place some years ago,” Jiran told Arab News, saying there were a lot of officers on the battlefield who were following the government’s instructions.

In such a situation the US should punish the government for waging war against LTTE and not individuals involved in the operations, he added.

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