U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has said he cannot order an international probe into the killing of tens of thousands of civilians during Sri Lanka's final assault on Tamil separatists in 2009.

His remarks came after a U.N. panel said on Monday that the Sri Lanka military killed most of the civilian victims of the offensive but that both sides may be guilty of war crimes, ordering Colombo to conduct a “genuine” inquiry.

It said both sides had carried out acts that constitute “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”.

Mr. Ban said he lacked the authority to order an investigation but that the United Nations would probe its own actions in the war's final months, after the panel said it could have saved lives by being tougher on Sri Lanka.

The panel's three experts painted a barbarous picture of the final offensive on the Tamil enclave in the north of the island that ended a three-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Hospitals, U.N. centres and Red Cross ships were deliberately shelled by government forces, prisoners shot in the head and women raped, they said. LTTE leaders meanwhile used 330,000 civilians as a human shield and shot those who tried to escape, they added.

“Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days,” said the panel, led by the former Indonesian Attorney-General, Marzuki Darsman.

“Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” the report added.

The U.N. experts said there were “credible allegations” of serious violations of international law by government forces and the LTTE, “some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Mr. Ban said he had been advised that Sri Lanka must agree to any international investigation or that it has to be ordered by “an appropriate intergovernmental forum”. Officials said he was referring to the U.N. Human Rights Council or Security Council. — AFP

  • U.N. chief says he lacks authority to order investigation
  • Panel says U.N. should have been tougher on Sri Lanka