Sri Lanka monks protest UN rights chief's visit

Demonstrators from the "Power of Ravana" organization clash with police officers during a protest.

COLOMBO - Buddhist monks led protests in the Sri Lankan capital Monday against the UN's top rights official, who began a fact-finding mission to the country following concerns about war crimes.

Dozens of monks and pro-government activists staged the noisy demonstration outside UN offices, accusing the international community of drumming up false allegations of war crimes in 2009 during the final months of a separatist conflict.

The activists vowed to stage more protests if UN rights official Navi Pillay criticised Sri Lanka during her week-long mission, which they say would damage the country emerging from decades of ethnic war.

"We will not hesitate to muster the protest of the entire citizenry against the UN if attempts are made to fabricate diabolical lies against Sri Lanka," the activists said in a petition.

Carrying banners that read "Let us condemn Pillay's anti-Sri Lankan visit", the activists handed the petition to a senior UN official before dispersing.

Pillay, who has previously been accused by Colombo of overstepping her mandate, arrived Sunday for her first visit after the government dropped its public hostility to her and promised access to former war zones.

On Monday she met Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem and is due to travel to the former war zone of Jaffna later in the day.

Pillay, who has previously called for a war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka, told reporters on Sunday that she was only holding Colombo to human rights standards agreed by all nations.

"I am not writing my own statute. I am looking at the (human rights) framework that was also developed by Sri Lanka," she said.

"If I raise criticism, it is on whether they (Sri Lanka) comply with those standards," she added. "I have not come to criticise. I have come to raise human rights concerns."

The government's U-turn in allowing her free access came as Canada leads calls for a boycott of a Commonwealth summit scheduled to take place in Colombo later this year.

Sri Lanka has resisted international pressure for an investigation into what the UN says are "credible allegations" that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the war.

A no-holds-barred military offensive crushed Tamil Tiger rebels who at the height of their power controlled a third of Sri Lanka's territory. President Mahinda Rajapakse has since been dogged by claims of indiscriminate killing of ethnic Tamils.

Tamil groups are banking on Pillay's visit to revive calls for a war crimes probe, but the government insists that its troops did not kill civilians.