NEW YORK: Sri Lanka's foreign minister said up to 2,000 hardcore Tamil rebels are likely to be prosecuted on charges including mass murder for crimes committed during the island's quarter-century civil war.
The rebels are among some 11,500 Tamil fighters who were captured or surrendered after the war's bloody end in 2009.
In comments to the Associated Press, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said all but about 3,000 of them had already been released from military-run rehabilitation camps and were reintegrating into society.
Interviewed in New York where he attended the UN General Assembly opening session, Mr Peiris said that of those remaining, 'less than 2,000' hardcore rebels were expected to be indicted, and that court proceedings were likely to start next year.
Responding to accusations that the government is overlooking allegations of rights violations by its own forces, Mr Peiris denied that troops targeted civilians during the conflict.
But he said it was within the mandate of a reconciliation commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year to review the conflict and learn lessons from it, and to also look into allegations of rights violations.
'They (the commission) cannot fulfil their mandate if they exclude from consideration these issues.'
The commission is due to submit its final report by November this year. Rights groups have questioned its impartiality and whether it investigated allegations that tens of thousands of minority Tamils were killed, primarily by government forces, as they closed in on retreating Tamil Tiger rebels during the final five months of the war.
Mr Peiris accused several Western nations, including Britain, Australia and Canada of being unduly critical of Sri Lanka's efforts to recover from the war and using the island nation as a 'political football'.
'Sri Lanka has to be given the time and space to resolve its issues. It's premature for any kind of intervention by the international community,' the minister said.
A documentary aired by Britain's Channel 4 in June included graphic video showing soldiers shooting bound, blindfolded prisoners and abusing corpses. The British government subsequently demanded progress by Sri Lanka in investigating alleged war crimes by year's end.
Colombo has said the video was fake, but the UN independent investigator on extrajudicial killings who reviewed it with a team of technical and forensic specialists said it provided definitive evidence to warrant a war crimes prosecution.