For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
COLOMBO (AFP) – A group of global statesmen, founded by Nelson Mandela, Tuesday criticised the Sri Lankan government for failing to build on peace brought to the island by the end of the civil war last year.
Sri Lankan troops defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas in a massive military offensive that ended decades of bloody ethnic conflict.
But the “Elders” — who include former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, ex US president Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu — said the government’s post-war conduct warranted international concern.
“The ongoing persecution and disappearances of human rights activists, journalists and government opponents is truly terrifying,” said Tutu, calling for a “much greater commitment to achieving meaningful reconciliation.”
The Elders said 8,000 suspected ex-combatants were still detained without charge, and that the government was still using wartime emergency laws to control public debate.
They also said the marginalisation of ethnic minority Tamils that was at the root of the war was not being addressed.
Sri Lanka has recently opposed a UN panel of experts appointed to investigate “accountability” during the last months of fighting, when thousands of civilians were killed.
The Elders urged the government to co-operate with the panel, and expressed their anger at a siege of UN offices in Colombo last month by demonstrators led by a cabinet minister.
The group, which was formed in 2007, said the Sri Lankan government was guilty of a “clampdown on domestic critics” and “disdain for human rights.”
Annan said there had been “a deafening global silence in response to Sri Lanka?s actions, especially from its most influential friends,” namely China, India, Japan and the United States.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has dismissed calls for an international probe into alleged war crimes committed against the Tamil Tigers, and said he seeks ethnic reconciliation in the country