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Lankan soldier handed death sentence for murder of Tamil civilians

Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, a Sinhalese soldier, was given capital punishment by a two-judge High Court in Colombo for murdering eight civilians by slitting their throats during the height of the country’s civil war.



By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 12:08 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:59 PM

Colombo — A Sri Lankan court on Thursday handed the death sentence to an army soldier convicted of killing eight people including four children 15 years ago, in a rare case of the country’s military held accountable for its actions.

Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, a Sinhalese soldier, was given capital punishment by a two-judge High Court in Colombo for murdering eight civilians by slitting their throats during the height of the country’s civil war.

However, four others who were purportedly with the soldier during his crime were acquitted due to a lack of direct evidence against them. The massacre at the village of Mirusuvil in the Jaffna peninsula, then home of the Tamil Tiger rebels, came to light when another civilian escaped the butchery and informed officials.

The incident happened in 2000 during one of the fiercest battles between the army and the Tiger guerillas.

The civilians had gone back to check the remains of their bombed homes after an intense battle between the army and Tiger rebels in their little village.

The court heard that the soldier slit the throats of the civilians and buried them in a mass grave about 16 miles east of Jaffna town.

In a rare move, the then government under former president Chandrika Kumaratunge suspended the entire unit of soldiers involved in Mirusuvil and subsequently arrested the five men who were indicted in 2003.

“Today’s sentencing showed that the military was following due process in dealing with abuses committed during the war,” army spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera told reporters.

Brigadier Jayaweera further noted that Thursday’s verdict was a “good example to show the system is working well”.

Sri Lanka has been under heavy international pressure to show accountability for alleged war crimes committed by the military during the country’s three decade war.

An independent United Nations report estimates that the army killed at least 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the war that ended in May 2009.

However, past and present governments have denied the allegations. The former government under Mahinda Rajapaksa under whose regime the Tamil Tigers were defeated maintained that there was zero civilian casualty committed by the predominantly Sinhalese army during the war.

The current government, however, has promised to investigate any allegations of war crimes.

Although Sri Lankan courts pass death penalty in serious crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, no execution has been carried out since 1976. There are at least 500 death-row convicts in prisons in Sri Lanka.

news@khaleejtimes.com


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