US warns Sri Lanka over war investigation standards

Members of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Critics say that the commission set up Sri Lanka lacks a mandate to investigate war crimes

The US has warned Sri Lanka to apply international standards to its probe into the deaths of civilians in the final months of its civil war.

Washington says that if this is not done, there will be pressure to appoint an international body for the purpose.

It is the strongest human rights warning sent by the US to Sri Lanka since the government's final war victory over the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

The warning has come from Robert Blake, an assistant secretary of state.

He was ambassador in Sri Lanka when the war ended.

In an interview with the AFP news agency, Mr Blake cited the United Nations estimation that "many thousands" of civilians were killed in the final few months of the war.

He said the Obama administration still hoped that Sri Lanka's own domestic means of looking into these deaths would be effective - a reference to a commission that has been quizzing hundreds of people since last August on the causes and final course of the war.

But, said Mr Blake, if Sri Lanka was not willing to meet international standards regarding these matters, there would be pressure for an international commission to be appointed.

His remarks coincide with the start of the UN Human Rights Council's latest session in Geneva.

A Sri Lankan government minister has told the session that the final stage of the war amounted to a "massive humanitarian operation" by the armed forces to save civilians from the Tamil Tigers.

Government officials regularly say that the army operation killed no civilians at the time and there is little deviation from that account within Sri Lanka.

The domestic commission's chairman told the BBC six months ago that it would be able to recommend prosecutions for violations of human rights - however such prosecutions are not mentioned in its mandate.

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