Sri Lanka announces probe into military's alleged rights abuses during Tamil conflict

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka announced on Thursday an investigation into its military over allegations of rights abuses, following intense international pressure for a war-crimes probe into the island's decades-long ethnic conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said a current government-appointed Commission of Inquiry (COI) would be expanded to probe the military and Tamil rebels over abuses allegedly committed during their war that ended in 2009.

Mr Rajapakse also announced three foreign war crimes experts had been appointed to the commission to act as advisers during the probe. British lawyers Desmond de Silva and Geoffrey Nice, and United States law professor David Crane, are all former United Nations war crimes prosecutors.

In a government decree published on Thursday, Mr Rajapakse said the commission would investigate the military's "adherence to or neglect... of laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law".

Under pressure over the military's alleged abuses, Colombo set up the COI last year, but only to trace the thousands of mainly ethnic minority Tamils who went missing during and immediately after the separatist conflict.

The COI is the latest probe initiated by Colombo after several conducted in the past were accused by experts and activists of being a whitewash.

About 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were said to have been killed by government forces in the final months of fighting, a charge Colombo has long denied.

The UN Human Rights Council voted in March to set up an international probe into the allegations, after censuring Colombo for failing to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

Mr Rajapakse has said he would not be pressured into cooperating with any international investigation.

The decree, published in the government gazette, also said the COI would report on whether the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should be prosecuted under international law for rights abuses.

Colombo had earlier said the entire top LTTE leadership was wiped out during the final stages of the 37-year-old war.

The 1972-2009 conflict claimed 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

Sri Lanka has said it needs more time to ensure reconciliation between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese community.