Sri Lanka MPs receive controversial civil war report

File photo of Sri Lankan soldiers Both sides were accused of committing abuses in the final stages of the war

A commission set up by Sri Lanka's president to investigate the conduct of the civil war has said the government did its best to protect civilians.

It concluded the military gave the "highest priority" to protecting civilians and said Tamil Tiger rebels had had "no respect for human life".

Both sides have been accused of human rights abuses during the final phase of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

This commission was widely dismissed by international human rights groups.

In September Amnesty international said the government inquiry was "flawed at every level".

International groups refused to testify before the panel, adding that it had no mandate and did not meet international standards.

But the government always insisted that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) would provide justice and get to the bottom of human rights violations that may have been committed during Sri Lanka's brutal conflict.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that the report did not mince its words in its criticism of the government on some human rights issues.

Civilian casualties question

The keenly awaited report was written after months of public submissions to the panel which also toured war-torn areas. The findings were submitted to the president in November, but given to parliament only on Friday.

The report acknowledged that rights groups had greeted its formation with scepticism. Nevertheless it concluded that there had been no government policy of deliberately targeting civilians.

"The commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE [Tamil-Tiger]-held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority," the report said.

The Tigers, in contrast, used people as human shields, shot them, conscripted them and placed weapons in civilian centres, the LLRC report said.

The report also accused the government of failing to disarm illegal armed groups, most of which are pro-government. It said a Tamil party within the government was still recruiting children to a militia.

There was, it added, an urgent need to address the question of missing people - the number of whom has risen since this report was completed.

The report recounted numerous testimonies of those who said their family members, often former fighters with the rebels, had disappeared after surrender or arrest.

It said that specific instances of alleged wrongdoing - such as the killing of civilians - should be investigated and, if necessary, the perpetrators prosecuted, whichever side they were on.

The government says it is acting on some of the commission's suggestions.

"The government is of the firm view that these situations need thorough investigation in the first instance, and punitive legal action if wrongdoing is established," government minister Nirmal Siripala de Silva said.

Hospital shelling?

The report also said there had been "considerable civilian casualties" and hospitals had been shelled, though it could not say who was responsible.

A UN-backed report earlier this year said there were credible allegations that "most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling".

It alleged that Sri Lankan troops had shelled civilians in a no-fire zone and targeted hospitals in their push to finish off the Tamil Tigers. The government has denied such accusations.

The rebels were also accused by the UN panel of holding civilians as human shields, using child soldiers and killing people who tried to leave areas under their control.

Estimates say that as many as 100,000 people died over 26 years as government forces battled Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland.

The focus of global scrutiny and rights groups has been the closing phase of the war when thousands of civilians were trapped in a thin strip of land in the north of Sri Lanka as fighting raged around them.

The government appointed the commission last year amid mounting pressure to investigate abuse.

Government forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

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