Accused Sri Lanka war criminal named army’s second-in-command

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s President appointed a general accused by the United Nations (UN) of war crimes to the country’s second-highest army ranking, evoking outcry from rights groups.

Major General Shavendra Silva, who commanded an army division accused of gross abuses against civilians during Sri Lanka’s civil war, formally assumed duties as Chief of Staff of the army on Thursday.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a 37-year war that left 100,000 people dead.

The final days of the conflict saw mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north.

The UN, in a report into the allegations, named Silva as playing a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

The International Truth and Justice Project, which has pursued war-era officials accused of crimes, said Silva’s appointment was “a shocking new low for Sri Lanka”.

“This is arguably the most wanted man in Sri Lanka,” the South Africa-based rights group said in a statement on Thursday. “A decade on, tragically, he is being promoted instead of standing trial. We believe there is more than enough evidence to charge him for international crimes should the opportunity arise.”

Another rights group, the South Asian Centre for Legal Studies, said Silva’s election was proof of continuing impunity in Sri Lanka.