In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sept. 22 rejected a UN recommendation for international involvement in its investigation into alleged war crimes. The UN released a report earlier this month finding that war crimes may have been committed during the Sri Lankan civil war, encouraging creation of a hybrid special court to handle the matter. Wickremesinghe stated there was nothing to be gained by international involvement, rejecting the idea that the inquiry would be hybrid. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to bring war criminals to justice, with his government announcing plans to set up a truth commission, war reparations office and commission on missing people. Despite this, members of the Tamil minority have expressed distrust in a purely domestic inquiry.
Police declared a curfew in Sri Lanka's southern coastal town of Aluthgama June 16 after simmering tensions between Buddhist militants and local Muslims escalated into clashes. The riots reportedly began after Muslim youth were accused of manhandling a Buddhist monk. Police arrested three suspects in the incident, but the Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena held a rally and advanced on the Muslim-majority district of Dharga Town in a vehicle convoy. The convoy was pelted with stones, sparking a melee that led to three days of fighting in Aluthgama and neighboring Beruwala, in which eight were killed, over 100 wounded, and several Muslim-owned shops burned. "There is a real risk of violence spreading elsewhere unless the government acts immediately," David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, told IRIN. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added: "I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country." (IRIN, June 23; Nidahasa, June 16; Colombo Page, BBC News, June 15)
Sri Lanka's foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris announced on April 7 that Sri Lanka would not cooperate with a UN investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the country's civil war. The UN Human Rights Council last month voted to launch an investigation into alleged violations committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 towards the end of the civil war. However, speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association forum, Peiris signaled Sri Lanka's intent not to cooperate due to concerns over legality, fairness, and conflict of interest. Peiris also expressed criticism of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has previously been accused of being partial given her Tamil background.
Sri Lankan authorities on March 16 arrested human rights activists Ruki Fernando, advisor to the Human Rights Documentation Center, and Catholic priest Father Praveen of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation for alleged violations of anti-terror laws. Reports indicate authorities arrested the activists for assisting the families of allegedly "disappeared" persons living in Northern Sri Lanka. In particular, the men reportedly sought to uncover information with respect to the March arrests of activist Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter. Several human rights groups, including the Law and Society Trust, have declared the arrests a violation of international law. Sri Lankan authorities reportedly intend to detain the men pending further investigation.
The main opposition party in Sri Lanka, the United National Party (UNP), released a statement Feb. 13 demanding the government conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes that occurred during the 26 year Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009. The Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or Tamil Tigers) have both been accused of war crimes and human rights violations, primarily in the final months of the conflict. According to the AP, the government has been accused of deliberately shelling civilians, blocking food and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zone and deliberately undercounting civilians caught up in fighting. The Tamil rebels have been accused of using civilians as human shields, killing those who tried to escape their hold and recruiting child soldiers. According to a November 2012 UN report (PDF) an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the conflict.
Reuters reports that Muslims are "disappearing" from villages in central Burma, as Buddhist attacks spread from the coastal area where they began last year. A reporter in the village of Sit Kwin (Thayarwady district , Bago division, see map), says the some 100 Muslim residents have all fled, some to displaced persons camps, after a wave of attacks in which their homes, shops and mosques were destroyed, and several killed. Since 42 were killed in violence that erupted March 20 in Meikhtila town (Mandalay division), attacks led by Buddhist militants have spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon (Rangoon). (Reuters, March 29)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on March 28 called on the government of Sri Lanka to begin its investigation into war crimes by examining the role of its own Deputy Minister of Resettlement. HRW alleged that Deputy Minister Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna, is a former leader of the the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is accused of war crimes committed during a 26-year civil war. Ultimately, Karuna and his unit changed sides, joining forces with the Sri Lankan government. In March, Karuna called for an investigation of war crimes by the LTTE. HRW released a statement, saying, "Karuna's call for war crimes investigations should not allow him to airbrush out his own role in atrocities. His LTTE forces were implicated in some of Sri Lanka's most horrific abuses, so the government's long-stalled war crimes investigations might as well begin with him."