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Inquiry accuses Sri Lankan forces of wartime abuses, says government tried to destroy evidence

NEW DELHI - Sri Lankan security forces carried out arbitrary killings, torture and rape in the final months of the country's quarter-century civil war and tried to destroy evidence of mass civilian deaths, according to the results of an independent investigation released Wednesday.

The Australia-based Public Interest Advocacy Center's report also accuses Sri Lankan forces of broad human rights violations in 2008 and 2009 as they smashed a sustained Tamil rebellion for an independent homeland.

"Although violations were committed by both sides, the evidentiary material indicates that members of the Sri Lankan security forces perpetrated the vast majority of alleged crimes during the investigation period," the report said.

The investigation also found evidence that suggests the government "may have sought systematically to exhume and destroy evidence of mass civilian deaths."

The report, called "Island of Impunity," calls for an internationally mandated investigation into the allegations. It was produced by a five-member panel of experts who examined testimony from witnesses, documentary evidence and other reports.

The report comes at a time of great international pressure on the island nation.

On Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said it would be a "grave crime" if anyone brings war crime allegations against his government over its conduct in the final months of the war.

Rajapaksa did not mention any country in an Independence Day speech, but the United States has said that it is frustrated by Sri Lanka's lack of progress in postwar reconciliation and accountability, and that it will bring a third resolution to the United Nations human rights body calling on Sri Lanka to do more.

Details of the resolution have not been revealed.

"I see the allegations of war crimes attempted to be brought against Sri Lanka in Geneva as a victory for those who are opposed to peace," said Rajapaksa, adding that it was a "grave crime" to make such accusations based on information provided by "separatists and losers."

Rajapaksa said the proposed resolution was against peace, justice and fairness.

Human rights groups have called for accountability over crimes committed during the war. Government troops have been accused of targeting civilians and hospitals, blocking food and medicine for civilians, and deliberately undercounting the number of civilians trapped in the war zone.

The rebels were accused of using the civilians as human shields, killing those who tried to escape and recruiting child soldiers. According to a U.N. report, 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the fighting, mostly by government attacks. The U.S has sponsored two resolutions calling on the Sri Lankan government to initiate an inquiry into allegations of war crimes.

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