British mercenaries investigated over Sri Lanka war crimes

By Nalini Sivathasan
BBC Asian Network

image copyrightJDS Lanka
image captionDuring the 1980s KMS trained the Special Task Force, an elite unit of the Sri Lankan police, and also taught the country’s air force

British mercenaries who were involved in the Sri Lankan civil war are being investigated for war crimes by the Metropolitan Police.

Private security company Keenie Meenie Services (KMS) trained an elite unit of the Sri Lankan police called the Special Task Force (STF) in the 1980s to fight Tamil separatists.

The STF has been implicated in a number of human rights abuses.

These have included executions without trial and killings of Tamil civilians.

The investigation is believed to be the first time British mercenaries have been investigated by the Met, which is the UK force responsible for investigating accusations of war crimes or human rights abuses.

A police spokesperson said the Met had received a referral in March concerning allegations of war crimes committed by British mercenaries and following a "scoping exercise", it had launched an investigation.

image copyrightImperial War Museum
image captionAllegations of war crimes committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka are detailed in Phil Miller’s book

Much of the evidence concerning KMS's involvement in Sri Lanka has come from declassified UK government documents and freedom of information requests submitted by journalist Phil Miller, whose book, Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes, was published in January.

He said the investigation was being closely followed by the UK's 200,000 strong Tamil community - many of whom fled to London during the civil war in Sri Lanka.

"A lot of Tamil people became refugees in the 1980s, that's when KMS were there," Mr Miller said.

"People remember being attacked by helicopter gunships so I think people are quite shocked to learn that in many of those cases helicopters were flown by British mercenaries."

The Sri Lankan civil war

image copyrightGetty Images

The Sri Lankan army defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 after 26 years of bloody conflict.

The war divided Sri Lanka along ethnic lines - pitting the majority Buddhist Sinhalese-dominated government against Tamil rebels who wanted a separate state.

The fighting killed an estimated 100,000 people and left about 20,000, mostly Tamils, missing.

At the end of the war, the United Nations accused both sides of atrocities, especially during the conflict's final stages.

Earlier this year, Sri Lanka's president acknowledged for the first time that those who had disappeared were dead.

KMS was founded by David Walker, a former SAS officer. KMS no longer exists but the 78-year-old is one of the directors of a subsequent company, Saladin Security, which is based in Kensington.

Mr Walker has strongly maintained that nobody from KMS was complicit in war crimes in Sri Lanka.

In a statement, his representative said: "The allegations that David Walker or staff of KMS Limited were complicit in war crimes in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s is categorically denied.

"[Saladin Security] is an entirely separate company from KMS and had no involvement in Sri Lanka. Mr Walker was neither a shareholder or director of KMS.

"The [War Crimes] Unit has not yet asked for assistance from Saladin or Mr Walker but they will be happy to co-operate if asked."

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media captionHow the army finally crushed Tamil Tiger rebels after 25 years of bloody war

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