Sri Lanka says it will conduct its own investigation into rights abuses during the final months of the island nation's civil war when thousands of civilians reportedly died, dismissing the need for an international tribunal.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.M. Peiris spoke Friday after meeting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and presenting his government's plans for reconciliation and reconstruction following the 25-year conflict.
Ties have been strained by US sponsorship of a resolution passed by the UN human rights council in March to press Sri Lanka to conduct an independent probe into civilian deaths in the final months of the war that ended in 2009, when ethnic Tamil rebels' battle for an independent state was crushed by Sri Lanka's military.
Peiris said Sri Lanka's attorney general has begun an inquiry into several incidents that a government-appointed reconciliation commission said required further investigation, and would assess whether there was adequate evidence for criminal proceedings. He said security forces would not be immune from prosecution.
"The local enquiry has just started," Peiris told reporters. "It has to be given reasonable opportunity to move forward and to come to a conclusion. Until that is done, any kind of intervention by any kind of international tribunal is premature."
Human rights groups have accused Sri Lanka of foot-dragging and evasion on the issue. The reconciliation commission, which convened in 2010 and delivered its report last December, gathered evidence on the conflict from both sides, but rights groups say it failed to investigate, for example, the use of heavy artillery against civilian areas as possible war crimes. A UN report found that up to 40,000 people died in the final five months of the war and said Sri Lankan troops deliberately targeted civilians. It said Tamil rebels used civilians in the shrinking battle zone as human shields.
Sri Lanka's government has also been criticized for failing to act on the reconciliation commission's recommendations, including that it give more power to Tamils in areas where they are in the majority. Tamils have long been discriminated against by the island's majority ethnic Sinhalese.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Sri Lanka on Friday presented a "serious and comprehensive" plan for implementing the recommendations that now needed to be made public and put into practice.
Peiris said resettlement of the 300,000 people displaced by the war was nearly complete, and the economy in the former conflict zone's in the island's north was growing fast.
According to Nuland, Clinton also urged "accountability" in probing the war crimes allegations "to strengthen reconciliation, public confidence inside and outside Sri Lanka, and, frankly, to speed the healing of the country."
Both Clinton and Peiris spoke on the importance of US-Sri Lankan relations. Peiris referred to excellent defense cooperation and the potential for stronger economic ties.
Nuland said the US was encouraged by Sri Lankan efforts to reduce its dependence on crude oil from Iran, which Peiris said had declined about 20 percent in the past two years.