Sri Lanka names controversial field commander as Army chief

The new commander Major General Shavendra Silva was in charge of the 58th Division which encircled the final stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels in the last stages of the civil war in 2009

The new commander Major General Shavendra Silva was in charge of the 58th Division which encircled the final stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels in the last stages of the civil war in 2009

A controversial Sri Lankan field commander, accused of grave human rights abuses during the country's 26-year civil war, was on Monday appointed the new Army Commander, a decision which evoked "deep concern" from the United States.

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.

Silva was named head of the army after the previous chief Mahesh Senanayake's term ended on Sunday.

Peacekeeping deployment was put on hold for most of 2018 while more stringent vetting arrangements were put in place to ensure soldiers who had fought in units (such as Silva's 58 Division) in areas where alleged war crimes took place in 2008-9 were screened out.

"I am deeply troubled by the appointment. despite the serious allegations of gross violations of worldwide human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war", Bachelet said. Both the Sri Lankan military and the rebels have been accused of war time abuses.

The United Nations (UN) has said some 45,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in just the final months of the conflict.

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Silva's appointment to the highest position in the Sri Lankan army compromised Colombo's commitment to promote justice and accountability, she said, adding that it could jeopardise the island's participation in peacekeeping missions overseas.

Washington expressed its disapproval of Silva's appointment in a strongly worded statement.

"This appointment undermines Sri Lanka's worldwide reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount", it added.

After the brutal civil war ended, Silva served in NY as Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Mission. In 2015, the report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) documented several violations linked to Major General Silva and the 58th Division amounting to war crimes.

The CPA report said that in 2012 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights informed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that "there is at the very least the appearance of a case of worldwide crimes to answer by Mr. Silva".

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