Sri Lankan Army chief Shavendra Silva denies war crime allegations

Colombo: The newly-appointed chief of the Sri Lankan Army has dismissed the allegations of human rights abuses during the brutal civil war with the LTTE, describing the military actions as a "humanitarian operation."

Lt Gen Shavendra Silva was named as the new Army Commander by President Maithripala Sirisena last week, evoking strong criticism from the US and the minority Tamils.

Silva headed the Army's 58th Division in the final battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels in 2009 and his brigade was accused of attacking civilians, hospitals and stopping humanitarian supplies to trapped Tamil civilians.

His name was mentioned in the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013, alleging rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Army.

“There were no war crimes committed. What we did was a humanitarian operation to free people from a group of terrorists”, Silva told reporters in Kandy on Sunday.

Silva was treated as a war hero for his contributions to ending the over three decades old separatist conflict. “The Tamil civilians appreciated our action to free them from terrorists,” he said, adding that he only did his job as a soldier.

“Those (Tamils) were our own people so we had a duty to protect them. The civilians know how well we protected them,” Silva added.

Critics say Silva's appointment as the Army chief may strain Sri Lanka's cooperation in UN Peacekeeping operations and the defence cooperation between the US and Sri Lanka.

Besides the US, Canadian and European Union embassies too have expressed concern over Silva's appointment as the army chief. “There is a rule of natural justice,” Silva said, referring to international allegations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan troops.

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