♦ Army chief Shavendra Silva denies accusations
♦ Silva is credited with successfully leading an army division against dissident Tamil Tigers
The United Nations suspended Sri Lankan Army deployments in the world body’s peacekeeping operations after the Indian Ocean island nation appointed a war veteran who has been accused of serious human rights violations, an official said on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s president in August appointed war veteran Shavendra Silva as its army chief, drawing sharp criticism from the United States and the United Nations over the appointment of an officer who has been accused of serious human rights violations.
“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.”
Silva, 55, is credited with successfully leading an army division against dissident Tamil Tigers in the final phases of 26-year-long brutal civil war.
His victory, however, was highly controversial. Thousands of civilians were killed in the last phases of the conflict, including in areas declared by the government to be a “no-fire zone” which came under sustained army shelling, including hospitals.
A United Nations panel has accused Silva’s division of suspected extrajudicial executions of unarmed rebels in the final week of the war, which ended in 2009.
Silva has denied the accusations.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement in August that Silva’s promotion “severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability.”
The United States expressed its disapproval of Silva’s appointment in a strongly worded statement and said “the allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible.”