Sri Lanka has backtracked and will now allow a United Nations team to visit the country and share evidence gathered during an investigation into whether war crimes were committed during the final phase of the island's bloody civil war, a Cabinet minister said Saturday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-member panel last June to look into alleged human rights abuses during the decades-long war. The Sri Lankan government resisted the move, calling it an infringement of its sovereignty and vowed not to issue visas for the U.N. team.
Human rights groups have repeatedly called for investigations of Sri Lankan troops and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels during the war that ended in May 2009. Sri Lankan troops have been accused of shelling civilian areas and hospitals, and blocking food and medicine for people trapped as the Tamil Tigers mounted their last stand.
According to the U.N., at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of fighting. An estimated 80,000-100,000 people died during the 26-year conflict.
Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa has invited U.N. investigators to share evidence gathered with his own reconciliation commission, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Saturday.
"We resisted the panel saying we can't allow a U.N. investigation unilaterally. But in this case, the president has invited them not to undertake any investigation but to share the evidence," Rambukwella said.
Ban praised the move saying he hoped the U.N. team will "have an accountability process and make progress as soon as possible," he told a news conference Friday.
Britain's Channel 4 television last month aired video clips apparently showing the killing by government soldiers of Tamil prisoners, including a woman identified as a journalist with a rebel television station, prompting Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to call for a U.N war crimes investigation.
The Tamil Tigers have also been accused of child recruitment and killing civilians who tried to flee areas in their control.