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Lanka names officer accused of human rights abuse as Army chief

Source: PTI
Last updated on: August 19, 2019 21:25 IST

IMAGE: Lt Gen Shavendra Silva headed the Army's 58th Division in the final battle against the LTTE in the final stages of the civil war in 2009. Photograph: Stringer/ Reuters

A controversial Sri Lankan army general accused of grave human rights abuses during the country's 26-year brutal civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam was on Monday appointed the new Army Commander, evoking strong criticism from the United States and the minority Tamils.

President Maithripala Sirisena's office on Monday announced that Lt Gen Shavendra Silva has been named as the new army commander.


Silva, 55, will take charge as incumbent Army chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake's service was not extended.

Silva headed the Army's 58th Division in the final battle against the LTTE rebels in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

His brigade was accused of attacking civilians, hospitals and stopping humanitarian supplies to trapped Tamil civilians.

Silva's name was mentioned in the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013, alleging rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Army.

The Sri Lanka Army has denied the alleged rights abuses.

Critics say Silva's appointment as the Army chief may strain Sri Lanka's cooperation in UN Peacekeeping operations and the defence cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka.

The US expressed deep concern by Silva's appointment, said the American Embassy in Colombo in a statement.

'The allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible.

'This appointment undermines Sri Lanka's international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount,' the embassy said.

Sri Lanka's main Tamil political party too slammed the appointment of Silva as the country's new Army chief, calling it a 'serious affront'.

"An individual who stands accused of grave crimes (appointed) as Army Commander is a serious affront to the Tamil people," Tamil National Alliance spokesman M A Sumanthiran said.

"We are deeply disappointed by this appointment," he said.

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITPJ) said that Silva's appointment throws into question US assistance to the Sri Lankan Army which is subject to Leahy Laws which prohibit the US from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.

"This is a man who has shown his willingness to violate international law," said ITJP Executive Director Yasmin Sooka.

"His promotion will spark fear throughout the country but especially among the hundreds of thousands of Tamils who suffered immense loss in 2009 when Silva allegedly oversaw attacks on civilian sites," she said.

After the brutal civil war ended, Silva served in New York as Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Mission.

According to a United Nations report, some 45,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the war alone.

The United Nations and human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate the allegations of crimes against humanity, both by the military and the Tamil militant groups.

Successive Sri Lankan governments have resisted attempts to establish an international probe, saying it is an internal issue of the island nation.

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