COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka said Friday that a video purportedly showing its troops killing blindfolded, naked Tamils during the civil war was a fabrication and dismissed as biased a U.N. investigation confirming its apparent authenticity.
Philip Alston, a U.N. human rights investigator, said Thursday the footage was probably real, and called for a war crimes investigation into the final bloody months of the war between the government and ethnic Tamil rebels that ended in May.
The revived focus on possible wartime abuses has deeply angered the government and could complicate the island nation’s efforts to refocus international donors’ attention on its costly postwar rebuilding plans.
“We don’t accept his conclusions, and we believe his conclusions are highly subjective and biased,” Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said of Alston. “We believe he is on a crusade of his own to force a war crime inquiry against Sri Lanka.”
Samarasinghe said the government’s own investigation into the footage showed it was filled with “discrepancies and shortcomings,” and he accused Alston of not following “proper procedures” before announcing his conclusions.
“First thing he should have done was to share the information with the concerned country. But, he hasn’t done that,” he said.
The video, which appeared to show the summary execution of Tamils by Sri Lankan troops, was shot by a Sri Lankan soldier in January 2009 using a mobile phone, according to the group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which released the footage. Britain’s Channel 4 television first aired the video in August.
The Sri Lankan government dismissed the footage as fake, but Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s investigator on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said reports by three U.S.-based independent experts on forensic pathology, video analysis and firearm evidence “strongly suggest that the video is authentic.”
The experts concluded the footage of the apparent shootings showed the use of live ammunition, not blank cartridges, and there was no evidence that the images of two people being shot in the head at close range had been manipulated.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama rejected Alston’s call for a war crimes probe and said the U.N. investigator had deliberately timed his comments to interfere with upcoming presidential elections.
The U.S. State Department has accused Sri Lanka’s government and the rebels of possible war crimes in the killing of civilians during the final months of fighting, when government forces crushed the rebel group and ended the island’s 25-year civil war.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that Alston’s report added to a series of troubling allegations regarding the conduct of the war.
“We believe a full and impartial investigation is critical if we’re to confront all the very big question marks that hang over this war,” he said. “Obviously if the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Sri Lankan government has done nothing wrong, it will have nothing to fear from an international investigation.”
Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected calls for international investigations of its conduct during the fighting as an infringement of its sovereignty.
Sri Lanka’s civil war killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since 1983, and U.N. reports say more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the last months of the war.
Associated Press writer Bradley S. Klapper contributed to this report from Geneva.