Sri Lanka Names Controversial Field Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva As Army Chief
Armed troops patrol a street in Sri Lanka. (Reuters)
Lt Gen Shavendra Silva's name was mentioned in the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013, alleging rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Army. The Sri Lanka Army has denied the alleged rights abuses.
Colombo: A controversial Sri Lankan field commander, accused of grave human rights abuses during the country's 26-year civil war, has been appointed the new Army Commander, the President's office announced on Monday.
Lt Gen Shavendra Silva, 55, will take charge as incumbent Army chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake's service was not extended. President Maithripala Sirisena's office announced that Lt Gen Shavendra Silva has been named as the new army commander.
Silva headed the Army's 58th Division in the final battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels in the final stages of the civil war in 2009. His brigade was accused of attacking civilians, hospitals and stopping humanitarian supplies to trapped Tamil civilians.
Silva's name was mentioned in the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013, alleging rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Army. The Sri Lanka Army has denied the alleged rights abuses.
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. After the brutal civil war ended, Silva served in New York as Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Mission.
According to a United Nations report, some 45,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the war alone. The United Nations and human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate the allegations of crimes against humanity, both by the military and the Tamil militant groups.
Successive Sri Lankan governments have resisted attempts to establish an international probe, saying it is an internal issue of the island nation.
After the appointment, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she is "deeply troubled" by Sri Lanka's decision to designate an accused war criminal as army chief, as global concern mounts over the nomination.
"The promotion of Lieutenant-General General Silva severely compromises Sri Lanka's commitment to promote justice and accountability," Bachelet said in a statement.
Silva, who commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the conflict's final stages.
"I am deeply troubled by the appointment ... despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war," Bachelet said.
The US embassy in Colombo, along with civil society groups, have also criticised the appointment as a move likely to undermine reconciliation efforts.