Rajapaksa vows to scrap Sri Lanka war crimes probe if elected

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Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, left, Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief and his brother and former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa attend a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. — Reuters

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka's front-running presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa vowed on Tuesday that if elected he will scrap Colombo's pledge to investigate war crimes committed during his brother Mahinda's decade in power.

Gotabhaya was defense secretary during his brother's rule, when troops were accused of killing up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while crushing the Tamil Tigers.

A later government co-sponsored a US-led resolution to appoint an independent panel to look into the actions of both sides in the final stages of Sri Lanka's bloody separatist conflict, although it was never formed.

But on Tuesday the 70-year-old Gotabhaya said he would not honor the commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council, saying people needed to "move on"

In response to questions by AFP about Sri Lanka's wartime human rights record, he said: "Why are you talking all the time on the past. Ask (about) the future.

"I am trying to become the president of the future Sri Lanka. So if you concentrate on the future, it is better."

He said even the Tamils were more interested in jobs, education and infrastructure than raking over the past.

The Rajapaksas insist no civilians were killed by government forces in the latter stages of the war, and accuse the rebels of using tens of thousands of civilians as human shields.

At least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1972 and 2009.

Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration was on the verge of international sanctions because of its refusal to investigate the alleged war crimes when he was defeated at the January 2015 elections.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was addressing the press Tuesday for the first time since launching his bid to become president in an election scheduled for Nov. 16.

The presidential poll has attracted a record 35 candidates, with nearly 16 million people eligible to vote. — AFP


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