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Sri Lanka's detained ex-army chief denies war crimes

20/05/2010 - 17:11

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's detained former army chief on Thursday said there were no war crimes committed under his command but was not aware whether orders came from elsewhere.

Rights groups this week took advantage of the one-year anniversary of the end of the 25-year war to make a renewed push for a probe into possible war crimes violations in the final months of the conflict with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

A report by the International Crisis Group, which did not reveal the evidence it said it possessed, alleged "top government and military leaders (were) potentially responsible" for war crimes.

The government has consistently denied wrongdoing.

In the runup to the presidential poll in January, General Sarath Fonseka, who lost in a landslide to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was quoted as saying senior rebels who surrendered with white flags were gunned down on orders from above.

He later denied the report and it was retracted.

"Troops have carried out my orders. I didn't get any illegal orders from anyone when I was the commander of the army," Fonseka told reporters in Colombo.

Although he was beaten in the presidential race, Fonseka won a parliamentary seat in April, despite having been under arrest and in military custody facing two courts-martial since February 8.

Sri Lanka is facing heavy Western pressure over its human rights record, which the government blames on members of the Tamil diaspora who are angry the Tigers were beaten in their struggle for a separate state.

The European Union is due to withdraw a trade preference amounting to $150 million annually that helps Sri Lanka's top export, garments, after finding the country failed to adhere to a number of rights conventions required under the scheme.

Fonseka, who led the army to victory, fell out with Rajapaksa in November after being sidelined over what the general said were unfounded allegations he was plotting a coup.

(Editing by Bryson Hull and Ron Popeski)

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