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Sri Lanka’s war crimes accused STF sets up ‘special operations unit’

STF troops in Jaffna. Oct 2017

Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force (STF), a police unit accused of committing mass atrocities, has set up a round the clock “special operations unit”, as the security forces continues to expand on the island.

According to a press release from the Minsitry of Defence, the unit has been set up to “strengthen the national security and also to curb the illegal activities in the country”.

The latest initiative was announced by Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, who himself has been accused of overseeing mass atrocities. It comes as Sri Lanka’s defence ministry expanded its control over a total of 31 state institutions, including those that govern for non-governmental organisations, as well as the technology, telecommunications and media agencies.

The STF is a paramilitary unit widely understood to be responsible for a range of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, including a string of massacres of Tamils, such as the 'Trinco 5' murders.

In a 2018 report, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) identified 56 STF individuals who the group said should not be deployed as UN peacekeepers, including an officer then serving in Africa, as they were involved in extrajudicial killings.

The unit has been known to receive international training, including from Britain.

Secret CIA reports at the time noted Britain’s training of the STF through a private company, adding that “US Embassy sources assert the STF is behind most of the violence against Tamil civilians in Eastern Province… These sources report a common STF tactic when fired upon while on patrol is to enter the nearest village and burn it to the ground”.

In 2018, Police Scotland came under fire for continuing to train STF troops, despite the reports of human rights abuses.

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