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UN suspends deployment of Sri Lankan peacekeeper over human rights concerns

Photograph: Sri Lankan troops prepare for deployment to Lebanon earllier this month.

The United Nations has confirmed that it has out “on hold” the deployment of a Sri Lankan commander who was set to lead troops as a peacekeeper in Lebanon, after concerns over his involvement in war crimes.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that the deployment of Sri Lanka’s Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage “is on hold pending a review of the matter”. 

“A decision regarding deployment of this officer will be made once the review is complete,” he added, stating that “we are in communication with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka regarding the officer’s background”.

The Sri Lankan commander was involved in the massive military offensive that ended in May 2009 and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. Reports of gross violations of international humanitarian law emerged from the military offensive, including repeated targeted attacks on civilians, hospitals and extrajudicial killings.

“The United Nations takes reports of potential human rights violations very seriously,” said <r Haq. “As a matter of policy, we are committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights."

Several rights organisations wrote to the United Nations last week, calling for the deployment of the commander to be halted.

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