Sri Lanka appoints new army chief, US, UN criticize move

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday named Shavendra Silva as army chief, drawing sharp criticism from the United States and the United Nations over the appointment of an officer accused of human rights abuses.

Silva, 55, is credited with successfully leading an army division against the LTTE defectors in the final phase of the 26-year civil war.

But his victory sparked much controversy. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the final stages of the armed conflict, including in areas declared by the Government as “no-fire zones” and have been subjected to constant shelling by the army, including hospitals.

A UN panel accused Silva’s squad of killing unarmed rebels in the last week of the war that ended in 2009 and of systematically torturing people in detention.

Silva denied the charges. Silva joined the army in 1984 and has been army chief of staff since January.

“I am deeply concerned about the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva as commander of the Sri Lankan army despite serious accusations against him and his forces of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the war,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday.

His promotion “significantly undermines Sri Lanka’s commitment to promoting justice and accountability,” she said. It was also a setback for security sector reform.

Washington has expressed its disapproval of Silva’s appointment in a strongly worded statement.

“The charges against him of serious human rights violations documented by the UN and other organizations are serious and credible,” the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

“This appointment undermines Sri Lanka’s international reputation and commitment to promoting justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is increasing.”

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