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Sri Lanka defiant as criticism of army chief appointment piles on

The Sri Lankan government has lashed out against international criticism of the promotion of alleged war criminal to the post of army commander.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that “foreign entities trying to influence the decisions and internal administrative processes of public service promotions in Sri Lanka is unwarranted and unacceptable.”

“Articulating a position of concern on this appointment by certain bilateral partners and international organizations, based on allegations, is regrettable and contrary to the principles of natural justice espoused by all responsible members of the international community.”

Following swift rebuke from the United Nations and the United States, the European Union - incorporating the UK, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland - also added to the melee of criticism saying:

“We fully share the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's serious concerns about the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, given the allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law violations against him.

The promotion of Lieutenant-General Silva to the post of Army Commander calls into question Sri Lanka's commitments to the UN Human Rights Council, as recently as March 2019, to ensure justice and accountability. It also undermines Sri Lanka's efforts towards national reconciliation and sends a worrying message to victims and survivors of the war.”

US officials have also issued further warnings that the appointment could affect the country’s military cooperation and investment in Sri Lanka.

“It is a highly charged political environment in which some political factions feel there is much to be gained by playing the nationalist card,” a senior US State Department official said, according to Reuters.

“It is unfortunate that this card is being played through the promotion of a general about whom vivid and well documented human rights violations are on the record. We are deeply troubled.”

The official said there would be “limits to what we can do as we develop a stronger military relationship with Sri Lanka if the army chief is a known human rights violator.”

“There are limits to what foreign investors are willing to take as far as risk if they see a situation that is leading to greater polarization,” the official added.

Asked whether Silva’s promotion could affect a proposed $480 million grant through the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, under which a country is assessed on its commitment to democracy, the official said: “It will be one factor that will be looked at.”

In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils also expressed concern at the appointment. “The promotion of Silva to the most senior post in the army months ahead of important elections will have a significant impact on Sri Lanka’s international credibility,” the group’s chair Paul Scully MP said in a statement.

“For the relatives of victims of abuses committed by Silva’s 58th Division – who have long held vigils seeking justice and answers – this appointment negates all the government’s pledges toward accountability, reconciliation, and reform,” Human Rights Watch added.