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Sri Lanka under pressure to probe war crimes

Sunday - 2/24/2013, 1:20am  ET

Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) -- The photo shows a boy sitting shirtless by a row of sandbags as he glumly eats a snack. The next photo shows him lying face up in the dirt, a series of bullet holes in his chest.

The makers of a documentary on Sri Lanka say the boy was the 12-year-old son of Sri Lankan insurgent leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and that the photos prove he was captured and then executed by the Sri Lankan military. Sri Lanka denies the charge.

The accusation comes as Sri Lanka struggles to fend off a surge of criticism about its conduct in the final days of the war in 2009 and its treatment of government critics and the Tamil minority in the four years since.

Last week, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused the country of failing to investigate reports of atrocities and said government opponents were being killed and abducted. The United States has said it will introduce a new resolution on Sri Lanka -- urging a full accounting of what happened at the end of the war -- when the U.N. Human Rights Council meets next week.

Christian clergy in the country have called for an international inquiry into the final months of the war, and a respected think tank warned the country was growing increasingly autocratic.

The documentary, "No Fire Zone," which is backed by Britain's Channel 4, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others, is to be shown in Geneva during the sitting of the Human Rights Council.

It includes testimony from a U.N. worker trapped in territory controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who says he narrowly escaped being killed by shelling that came from government lines, according to excerpts of the film shown Friday in New Delhi. It showed footage of a Tamil Tiger commander apparently in government custody, and then a series of photos that purport to show him dead of an apparent bullet wound to the face and then his body dragged to a funeral pyre and incinerated. And it accuses Sri Lanka of killing 12-year-old Balachandran Prabhakaran.

"The evidence is just mounting," said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, who heads the India chapter of Amnesty International.

Sri Lanka denied the allegations, and said the pictures were fabricated as part of a plot against the country.

"Why did they wait for four years and why did they wait for a Human Rights Council (meeting)?" asked government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella. "There is a target, the agenda is to tarnish the image of the government. We completely reject the claims."

The director of the film, Callum Macrae, said the timing of the documentary was intended to help inform the debate of the council.

"I'm not going to apologize for that at all. That's not a conspiracy, that's journalism," he said.

The ethnic Tamil rebels and their leader Prabhakaran fought for more than a quarter-century for an independent state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. A U.N. report says tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final five months of the fighting.

Prabhakaran pioneered the use of suicide bombing, conscripted child soldiers into his forces and was feared and loathed by the nation's ethnic Sinhalese majority. He was killed at the end of the war in May 2009 along with his oldest son, Charles Anthony.

The documentary shows a series of photos it says depict his youngest son, Balachandran. In the first two, he is sitting by the sandbags, in the third he is apparently dead. Metadata on the photos showed they last one was taken with the same camera, two hours after the first two, the filmmakers said.

Macrae said the photos were authenticated by a forensic pathologist and other experts.

Sri Lankan military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasuriya said the military was unaware of the fate of Prabhakaran's wife, daughter and youngest son, or if they were even in the country at the end of the war. He questioned the identity of the boy in the photographs.

"How do you know this is Balachandran? Has anyone seen him? Has Mr. Callum Macrae seen him?" he asked.

The film showed an earlier snapshot of the same boy with Prabhakaran and his wife, and MacCrae said his identity was confirmed by people familiar with his image.

Reports of the film's allegations have inflamed anti-Sri Lankan sentiment in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, whose ethnic Tamils hold deep sympathy for their Sri Lankan brethren.

Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa backed out this week of hosting the Asian Athletics Championships because of Sri Lanka's participation. "Tamils will never accept it," she said.

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