The general was in charge of the division that led the siege against the last Tamil rebel stronghold in 2009. During the final attack, a hospital was bombed. For the UN, the appointment puts national reconciliation is at risk".
Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday appointed a general accused of serious human rights abuses in the final stages of the civil war as the new army chief. Major General Shavendra Silva, 55, was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.
According to the United Nations, the appointment of such a controversial individual to one of the highest offices of the state could undermine the country’s attempt at reconciliation, still marked by the memory of crimes going back 30 years.
In 2009, General Silva led the 58th Division that surrounded the last Tamil Tigers stronghold in the Putumattalan area.
According to a 2015 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a UN hospital and a camp were bombed during that siege.
Human rights groups blame the Sri Lankan military for the 40,000 civilian deaths in the last phase of the conflict (2006-2009).
The report describes atrocities by both sides in a conflict that saw the killing of about 100,000 people.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” reads a statement quoting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
The appointment of General Silva comes a few days after Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was controversially chosen to run as the candidate for the Sri Lanka People's Front (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) in next December’s presidential elections.
A cloud hangs over Gothabaya Rajapaksa because as Defence Secretary during the civil war, he played a major role in defeating the Tamil Tigers rebel who sought an independent Tamil state.