(NSI News Source Info) BRUSSELS - May 18, 2009: European Union nations called Monday for an independent war crimes investigation into the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, who chaired EU foreign ministers talks, said the EU wanted alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws investigated. A Tamil supporter protests against the war in Sri Lanka outside the EU Council in Brussels during an EU Foreign Ministers meeting, Monday May 18, 2009. European Union nations have called for an independent war crimes probe into the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka. It remained unclear who the EU wanted to carry out such a probe in Sri Lanka. Its government said Monday it has crushed the 25-year conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels and had killed rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. Kohout suggested "national authorities" in Sri Lanka could conduct such an investigation, but he also mentioned U.N. officials. "Those accountable must be brought to justice," the ministers said in a statement. As the appeal was issued, about 2,000 British Tamils staged an emotional protest outside Britain's houses of parliament in London. The protesters covered themselves in homemade bandages stained with fake blood and re-enacted what they said were attacks by the Sri Lankan army on Tamil civilians. British Tamils had called for a cease-fire, for humanitarian aid to be sent to the island nation's affected areas, and for the U.N. and international media to be allowed into restricted areas to assess the situation. Regarding the EU reaction, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there have been "very grave allegations" of war crimes on both sides of the conflict and "they should be properly investigated." But others said the priority should be on getting humanitarian aid to civilians caught in the crossfire. "Now we face ... an extremely difficult humanitarian situation," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "What we are asking is that the United Nations has access to these civilians." She said the European Commission stood ready to provide extra aid. It gave euro3 million ($4 million) in emergency funding for the International Red Cross in April. The ministers urged authorities to seek reconciliation with the country's minority Tamil population. "The future of Sri Lanka is dependent on its ability to build an inclusive society for all of its citizens," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "The sooner that starts the better." The U.N. said 7,000 civilians were killed in heavy fighting between Jan. 20 and May 7. The U.N.'s human rights office said last week there was evidence the rebels had forced civilians to stay in the conflict zone and had shot at those who tried to flee. EU nations, along with others, had appealed in recent weeks for a cease-fire to safeguard the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone, but the government refused, denying reports it was shelling the densely populated war zone. The EU reiterated its condemnation of the Tamil rebels for using civilians as shields and forcibly recruiting them into its militias. It urged the rebels to "renounce terrorism and violence once and for all." Separately, former Sri Lanka peace mediator Erik Solheim said Monday in Oslo that the government must follow up its military victory with an effort to build a lasting peace. Solheim, who is now Norway's minister of environment and international aid, said the international community should urge Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to start a reconciliation process with the Tamil minority. "The Sri Lankan government has won the war, but they have not yet won the peace," Solheim told The Associated Press by phone. "As the victor, the government has the greatest responsibility for peace and reconciliation." Solheim spearheaded a secret quest for peace in Sri Lanka that resulted in a 2002 cease-fire that collapsed three years later. The EU branded the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization in 2006, trying cut off funding to the group from EU countries. The rebels had fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
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