UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

Chief of staff of Sri Lankan army Shavendra Silva attends a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka May 16, 2019. Picture taken May 16, 2019. On August 19, 2019 Shavendra Silva was named as army chief. (Reuters)
Updated 19 August 2019

UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

  • Shavendra Silva, 55, was promoted by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army
  • A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday she is “deeply troubled” by Sri Lanka’s appointment of an accused war criminal as army chief, as global concern mounts over the nomination.
Major General Shavendra Silva, 55, was elevated to the army’s second-highest position of chief of staff in January before his latest promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army.
“The promotion of Lt. General General Silva severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Silva, who commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the conflict’s final stages.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment ... despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” Bachelet said.
The US embassy in Colombo, along with civil society groups, have also criticized the appointment as a move likely to undermine reconciliation efforts.
Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a 37-year war which killed 100,000 people.
There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north toward the end of the conflict, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.
A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.


Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

Updated 22 min 9 sec ago

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

  • Zabihullah Mujahid tells Arab News the Americans had yet to free Taliban detainees
  • The Afghan insurgent group is holding two university professors of American and Australian descent since 2016

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban did not take place since the Americans had not released three Taliban leaders.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that three Taliban prisoners were going to be released in return for two academics of American and Australian descent who taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have kept the professors, Kevin King and Timothy John Weeks, in captivity since 2016.
Ghani also named the Taliban detainees who included: Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban deputy chief, Siraj ud Din Haqqani, his maternal uncle, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Rashid Omari, brother of the Taliban’s political negotiator, Mohammed Nabi Omari.
Mali Khan was arrested by the Americans in eastern Khost province in 2011.
Anas, who was inducted in the insurgent group’s negotiating team in February, was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014.
He was accompanied by another Taliban leader, Rashid, who had gone to Qatar to meet five Taliban leaders who had been freed from the Guantanamo prison. They were later handed over to the Afghan authorities.
In August 2016, an Afghanistan court had awarded Anas a death sentence.
An earlier media report suggested that Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan and had reached Qatar, where they would be handed over to the Taliban political office.
However, Mujahid told Arab News on Friday that the swap did not take place and the Taliban prisoners were still in the Bagram jail in the north of Afghan capital Kabul.
“There was an agreement that the Americans will take our prisoners to a location and in return we will release the two professors later. But they have not fulfilled their promise by taking our people to that venue. Under the circumstances, we are still holding the American and Australian professors hostage. And there is no progress in the deal so far,” the Taliban spokesman said in an audio sent to Arab News.
Experts in Afghanistan said that delay in the prisoner swap was the result of deep mistrust on all sides.
Zakir Jalai, a television commentator and Afghan peace activist, said the prisoner issue was very sensitive and the Afghan government was under intense pressure not to release Anas Haqqani.
“I think the Taliban do not trust the Americans and will not hand over the professors unless they have complete trust that the US will free the Taliban prisoners,” Jalali told Arab News from Kabul.
“The Taliban will release the professors when their prisoners are handed over,” he said, adding that both, particularly the Taliban, were very cautious in view of their mistrust of the other.
A day after President Ghani announced the swap deal, Taliban leaders sent congratulatory messages to each other and a Taliban official in an audio message, in possession of Arab News, said: “Congratulations, as the plane carrying the freed prisoners has taken off an hour ago.”
A Taliban official earlier said his incarcerated colleagues were taken out of the Bagram prison but were then locked up again in the jail.