Lanka's reaction to UN war crimes probe unwarranted: UN chief

Government supporters began protesting outside the UN office in Colombo Tuesday. Wimal Weerawansa, minister of housing and construction, began Thursday a hunger strike until the UN withdraws a panel investigating alleged human rights abuses by the army at the end of Sri Lanka's civil war.

"We have no plans of ending the protest campaign until the panel appointed to investigate war crimes is withdrawn," said a spokesman for the National Freedom Front (NFF), a member of the government coalition, which launched the protest.

Weerawansa resigned Friday as minister amid accusations that the government had allowed one of its ministers to protest against the UN. He remains a member of parliament and NFF leader.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, after ordering the resident UN coordinator back to New York for consultations, called on the government to "take urgent action to normalise conditions" around the UN office so that the organisation could continue its work.
"The secretary general believes the strong reaction to his establishment of a panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka is not warranted," his spokesman said.

Ban appointed a three-member panel last month to advise him on Sri Lanka's accountability for its actions in the last few months of the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The NFF claims the panel is the first step towards opening a war crimes probe against the commander in chief of the armed forces - President Mahinda Rajapaksa - his brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the defence minister, and other senior officers.

According to the UN, thousands of civilians were killed as government forces closed in on the rebels in the northern part of the country, before defeating them in May 2009 after 26 years of war.

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