Sri Lankan minister fasts against UN rights probe

Lanka`s housing minister has started a hunger strike in front of UN office.

Colombo: Sri Lanka`s housing minister started a hunger strike on Thursday in front of the UN office after the world body refused to halt its investigation into alleged human rights abuses during the country`s civil war.

Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who leads the ultranationalist National Freedom Front, an ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s government, said he decided to fast to stop what opponents believe would be an unfair prosecution of Sri Lankan armed forces and political leaders for war crimes.

Human rights groups have accused government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels of deliberately targeting civilians last year as fighting drew a close in the 25-year war.

According to the UN more than 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last five months of the fighting, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-member panel last month to advise him on accountability for the alleged atrocities.

"I will fast until the UN panel is dissolved and Ban Ki-moon gives an assurance that he will no longer act acrimoniously against Sri Lanka," Weerawansa told the gathering.

"I am prepared to die fasting. Even if I die there are more patriots ready to carry forward this struggle."

Weerawansa led hundreds of protesters Tuesday and trapped UN employees inside their office but all of them were freed after the country`s foreign secretary intervened. A smaller sit-in on Wednesday had ended by Thursday, and UN employees were working in the building or from home.

The UN has refused to accede to Weerawansa`s demand.

"The panel has been created and they will go about their work, so that`s clear," associate spokesman Farhan Haq said at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

Bureau Report

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