Sri Lanka leader to shield general from war crimes case

9/27/2017

Sri Lanka's president has vowed to protect a former army chief accused of crimes committed in the bloody final phase of the country's civil war.

"I state very clearly that I will not allow anyone in the world to touch Jagath Jayasuriya or any other military chief or any war hero in this country," President Maithripala Sirisena said on Sunday, addressing a convention of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Sirisena's statement came a week after rights groups filed criminal lawsuits in South America against Jayasuriya, who until last week served as the country's envoy to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Suriname.

The lawsuits are based on Jayasuriya's role as a commander in the final phase of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

They allege he oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.

The suits had been filed in Brazil and Colombia, and more were to come in Argentina, Chile and Peru. Suriname had refused to accept the petition.

Sri Lanka's military has also denied the allegations against Jayasuriya.

Sirisena's comments are seen as an attempt to woo majority ethnic Sinhalese, most of whom oppose action against military personnel accused of crimes in the fight against minority Tamil rebels.

Sirisena is being painted as anti-Sinhalese by hard-line sections of the community.

More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed in Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, including 40,000 to 70,000 in the final phase alone.

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