Shavendra Silva appointed as 23rd Army Commander; US deeply concerned

Shavendra Silva appointed as 23rd Army Commander; US deeply concerned

A general accused of war crimes was Monday appointed Sri Lanka army chief, prompting worldwide criticism and warnings his selection undermined efforts to ensure accountability after the country's long-running civil war.

"Shavendra Silva as commander of the Sri Lankan army, despite the serious allegations of gross violations of worldwide human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war", U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday.

Lieutenant General Silva was the Chief of Staff, Colonel of the Regiment, Gajaba Regiment and Colonel of the Regiment, Commando Regiment at the time he was appointed the new Commander of the Army.

Lt. Gen. Silva commanded Sri Lanka's 58th Division during the final stages of the military campaign against the LTTE ('Tamil Tigers') in 2009, and successive United Nations investigations have implicated his division in alleged serious violations of worldwide humanitarian and human rights law, Bachelet's statement recalled.

Silva's 58th division has been accused of violating worldwide human rights laws, including shelling a hospital. Sri Lankan soldiers and the Tamil rebels, who fought for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils, were both accused of war abuses.

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His promotion "severely compromises Sri Lanka's commitment to promote justice and accountability", she said, adding that it also set back security sector reform.

The United Nations has accused him of committing war crimes during the final stages of Sri Lanka's separatist conflict.

Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives said despite the gravity of allegations facing Mr. Silva, neither the previous nor the current government investigated them.

The US Embassy in Colombo was also quick to respond to the appointment, saying Shavendra Silva's promotion "undermined Sri Lanka's global reputation and commitments to promote justice and accountability".

"Silva's promotion, however, sends a message of total impunity".

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