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Accused war criminal sends off Sri Lankan peacekeepers to UN mission

The head of Sri Lanka’s army was at Colombo’s international airport last night, as he saw off a group of soldiers sent to join a United Nations Peacekeeping mission, despite controversy over rights abuses and war crimes.

Shavendra Silva, who personally stands accused of overseeing crimes including the execution of Tamils in 2009, was appointed to the head of Sri Lanka’s army earlier this year, sparking widespread condemnation.

In response, the UN declared a ban on all “non-essential” Sri Lankan troops from its peacekeeping missions. However, in a surprise move last week, the global body said hundreds more Sri Lankan soldiers would be joining its mission in Mali, claiming they were “critical” to operations in the country.

Though it is not traditional Sri Lankan military protocol for the commander of the army to send off troops at the airport, Silva was present at proceedings once more last night. An official military website said he “shared a few thoughts with them and extended his best wishes” as troops departed.

Silva led Sri Lanka's 58 Division, an army unit which has been accused of mass atrocities and violations of international law during the 2009 military offensive that saw the killing of tens of thousands of Tamils. The 58 Division has been accused of repeatedly bombing hospitals, widespread sexual violence, torture and the execution of surrendering Tamils. 

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