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Sri Lanka: Photos renew accusations that 12-year-old was executed

February 20, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Protesters from Tamil groups watch as an effigy of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa burns during a protest in New Delhi.
Protesters from Tamil groups watch as an effigy of Sri Lankan President… (Tsering Topgyal / Associated…)

Facing continued pressure over alleged wartime abuses, Sri Lankan officials rejected renewed accusations that a 12-year-old boy was executed in the final throes of its bloody civil war.

Questions surrounding the death of Balachandran Prabhakaran, the young son of the leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels, were stirred up again by photographs from an upcoming film, "No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka." The documentary, slated to screen next month at a Geneva human rights film festival, includes photos purporting to show the boy being held by the military shortly before his death.

More photos show the boy lying dead on the ground, bullet wounds to his chest. U.K. filmmaker Callum Macrae said digital analysis showed the images of the boy before and after his death  were taken within two hours using the same camera, evidence that goes further than the footage of the slain boy released last year.

The new images “prove that Balachandran was not killed in crossfire or in a battle — or even that he was executed by some maverick band of paramilitaries,” Macrae wrote in the Independent newspaper. “His death was deliberate and calculated.”

Politicians in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu were outraged by the new photos. Members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party had been moved to tears, the group said Wednesday.

“There is no record of such a brutal murder in any country,” the party said in its statement, calling Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa “a war criminal.”

Sri Lankan government and military officials objected to the filmmakers’ claims, telling reporters they were being aired to tarnish Sri Lanka before an upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council meeting. The Sri Lankan envoy to India claimed the photos were “morphed.”

“This poor child may have died as a result of crossfire when his father kept fighting,” Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Prasad Kariyawasam was quoted as saying in Indian media.

Balachandran was the son of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil Tiger rebels battled the state for more than a quarter of a century, using suicide bombings, assassinations and other ruthless tactics in their campaign for a Tamil state. His death was announced by government forces on May 18, 2009, bringing an end to decades of war.

The furor over the new photos is the latest dispute to rock Sri Lanka in the aftermath of its lengthy war. Both rebels and government forces have been accused of wartime abuses: Nearly two years ago, a U.N. panel found the Sri Lankan military intentionally shelled hospitals and aid agencies while rebels held hundreds of thousands pf people hostage as human shields.

Human rights groups say Sri Lanka has failed to ensure justice for victims of such atrocities and branded activists who press for investigations as traitors. No one has been arrested for the slayings of aid workers and students, despite “strong evidence” that state forces were involved, according to Human Rights Watch. Last week, a military court exonerated the army in the killing of civilians.

“Sri Lanka has spent the last year deflecting international criticism and lashing out at its Sri Lankan critics instead of addressing past human rights violations or preventing new ones,” Amnesty International said in a statement last week, urging an independent investigation into wartime crimes.

The U.S. is “deeply concerned” and plans to introduce a resolution at the Human Rights Council pressing Sri Lanka to address allegations of wartime abuses, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. A resolution last year urging an investigation infuriated Sri Lankan officials, who said it trampled on their sovereignty.

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