Sri Lanka: Alleged war crimes committed with British guns

The British government continues to license millions of pounds in arms to the Sri Lankan regime despite suggestions that they may have been used in war crimes, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said on June 15.

New evidence of alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state in 2009 in its purge of a stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 emerged this week in a Channel 4 documentary screened in Britain
on June 14.

For more than two decades, until its defeat in 2009, the LTTE fought for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka's north-east.

Both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government have been accused of committing atrocities during the conflict which is estimated to have killed up to 40,000 civilians.

Earlier this year a panel of experts convened by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon reported that it had found "credible allegations" of war crimes on both sides.

The film included footage of apparent extra-judicial killing of prisoners by Sri Lankan government forces, the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian hospitals and the bodies of female Tamil fighters who appear to have been sexually assaulted.

It also examined alleged atrocities carried out by the LTTE, including the use of human shields and a suicide bombing in a government centre for the displaced.

In response to the film, the British foreign office called on the Sri Lankan government to launch an urgent investigation into the allegations.

CAAT said the government must also look to its own possible complicity in the atrocities. It called for an embargo on arms sales to Sri Lanka and an examination of its past record on arms exports.

The group said that arms sales during the period of the 2005-8 “ceasefire” between the government and LTTE must be scrutinised.

During this period, Britain approved arms export licences worth a total of £18 million (about $27.5 million) for armaments including armoured cars, machine-gun components and semi-automatic pistols.

Britain was accused of licensing arms sales worth £700,000 (more than $1 million) in 2009 and about £1 million ($1.5 million) in 2010.

The cross-party committee on arms export controls said that it could not guarantee that British-licensed armaments were not used during the Sri Lankan government’s attempt to eradicate the LTTE.

The committee heavily criticised the arms exports and said Britain should review its policy on arms sales to Sri Lanka.

CAAT spokesperson Kaye Stearman said: “David Cameron and the UK government are calling on the Sri Lankan government to investigate the atrocities but we also need a proper investigation of the UK government's own complicity in selling arms to Sri Lanka, despite knowing how they were likely to be used.

"UK arms sales confer support and legitimacy on the Sri Lankan government, just as they do to Middle East governments who use UK arms against their own people."

[Reprinted from MorningStarOnline.co.uk.]