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Sri Lanka names controversial field commander as Army chief

Sri Lanka names controversial field commander as Army chief

Colombo: A controversial Sri Lankan field commander, accused of grave human rights abuses during the country's 26-year civil war, was on Monday appointed the new Army Commander, a decision which evoked "deep concern" from the United States.

President Maithripala Sirisena's office on Monday announced that Lt Gen Shavendra Silva has been named as the new army commander.

Silva, 55, will take charge as incumbent Army chief Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake's service was not extended.

Silva headed the Army's 58th Division in the final battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

His brigade was accused of attacking civilians, hospitals and stopping humanitarian supplies to trapped Tamil civilians.

Silva's name was mentioned in the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2013, alleging rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Army.

The Sri Lanka Army has denied the alleged rights abuses.

Critics say Silva's appointment as the Army chief may strain Sri Lanka's cooperation in UN Peacekeeping operations and the defence cooperation between the US and Sri Lanka.

The United States expressed deep concern by Silva's appointment, said the US Embassy here in a statement.

"The allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible.

"This appointment undermines Sri Lanka's international reputation and its commitments to promote justice and accountability, especially at a time when the need for reconciliation and social unity is paramount," the embassy said.

After the brutal civil war ended, Silva served in New York as Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Mission.

According to a United Nations report, some 45,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the war alone.

The United Nations and human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate the allegations of crimes

against humanity, both by the military and the Tamil militant groups.

Successive Sri Lankan governments have resisted attempts to establish an international probe, saying it is an internal issue of the island nation.

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