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UN urged to halt deployment of Sri Lankan commander as peacekeeper

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

Several human rights organisations have written to the United Nations, calling for the deployment of a Sri Lankan military commander implicated in war crimes as the head of a peacekeeping force to be halted.

The Sri Lankan Army stated that Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage is due to head the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). “We believe that under the UN’s current vetting criteria, this commander should have been screened out of all UN peacekeeping duties,” said the letter.

Lt. Col. Hewage was involved in the massive Sri Lankan 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.

“If the UN is seriously committed to ensuring that peacekeeping forces are fit for purpose, then DPKO-DFS and the troop contributing country (Sri Lanka in this case) need to ensure that the troops and senior personnel are properly vetted so as to prevent human rights violators from going on peacekeeping operations,” the letter continued.

It also noted that the vetting procedure for Sri Lankan troops deployed on peacekeeping missions needs urgent review as “the same issue comes up for the last four commanders sent to Lebanon”.