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Clergy want int'l probe on Sri Lanka civil war

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Christian clergy from Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil-majority north have asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to push for an independent international inquiry into alleged atrocities in Sri Lanka's civil war.

A letter dated Monday and signed by 133 Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist pastors and nuns said the government lacks the will to resolve causes of the conflict on its own.

Both the government and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels have been accused of serious human rights violations during the quarter-century-long war, especially its final stages. According to a U.N. report, tens of thousands of civilians were killed in just the five months before fighting ended in 2009.

Last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Sri Lanka has failed to investigate reports of atrocities, and that opposition leaders are still being killed or abducted.

"We are convinced that the root cause of these problems is a lack of political will," the letter from the clergy said.

"Hence, it is our firm conviction that technical assistance from the U.N. in the form of training, advice, financial and material support will not suffice." They called for an international, independent commission of inquiry.

The U.N. rights council last year passed a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate human rights abuses, as the country's own war commission had recommended. The clergy asked the council to pass a new resolution noting a lack of progress by the government.

The clergy said that they have observed key recommendations from the war commission being flouted, including power sharing, release of political prisoners, dealing with disappearances, returning private land occupied by the military, lifting restrictions on the media and giving people the freedom to commemorate their dead.

The letter said the government is also engaged in systematically destroying the identity of the Tamil people by undermining their political, religious, cultural and land rights in areas where they live in majority.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa this month ruled out giving Tamils greater political autonomy. That goes against the war commission's recommendation and appears to back away from the president's own long-stalled promise to empower the ethnic minority as part of the country's reconciliation process.

The clergy also said they want U.N. officials alleged to have failed to protect civilians at the height of the war to be held accountable. The world body acknowledged last year that it took inadequate steps to save civilian lives, calling it a "grave failure" on its part.

The human rights council is to begin its sessions later this month, and Sri Lanka is likely to face questions on implementing the war commission report.

The United States reiterated Tuesday it will introduce a resolution on Sri Lanka at the council for a second straight year, and urged a full accounting for what happened at the end of the civil war.

"We continue to be deeply concerned by allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Sri Lanka," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Washington news briefing.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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