Sri Lanka will not grant visas to UN investigators probing war crimes allegedly committed during the island's decades-long separatist conflict, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said yesterday.
"We will not allow them into the country," said Rajapaksa, who is under international pressure to cooperate with the UN-mandated investigation.
Sri Lanka has refused to accept the authority of the UN Human Rights Council, which voted in March to probe allegations that the military killed 40,000 civilians in the final months of the separatist war, which ended in 2009.
But it is the first time that Rajapaksa has said UN investigators will not be allowed into the country, barring them from face-to-face access to Sri Lankans.
Rajapaksa said, however, that his government was cooperating with all other UN agencies.
"We are saying that we do not accept it [the probe]. We are against it," he said.
"But when it comes to other UN agencies, we are always ready to fully cooperate and fully engage with them," he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders have urged Colombo to cooperate with the UNHRC after ending a prolonged separatist war that pitted ethnic minority Tamil rebels and the largely Sinhalese army in a drawn out ethnic war.
Outgoing UN rights chief Navi Pillay earlier this month suggested that her investigators may not have to travel to Sri Lanka at all.
Pillay, who visited Sri Lanka last year, has accused Rajapaksa's government of becoming authoritarian, and warned that rights defenders and journalists were at risk in the country even after the end of the war.
The government conceded a degree of ground last month when it asked a panel investigating missing persons to expand its work and investigate actions of both troops and Tamil rebels.
Rajapaksa said yesterday that he was naming two more foreign experts - an Indian and a Pakistani - to join three international legal experts on a panel of advisers helping the presidential Commission of Inquiry.
Rajapaksa said he was willing to give "even two more years" to the commission to complete its work. The commission said it was probing 19,471 cases of missing persons as of yesterday and had completed hearings in 939 cases.
The president said Indian rights activist Avdhash Kaushal and Pakistani lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi were to join British lawyers Desmond de Silva and Geoffrey Nice and US law professor David Crane, all former UN war crimes prosecutors, on the panel.
The president denied that the foreigners were named as part of a whitewash. "We appointed these foreign experts because the commission itself asked for it. They [the commission] thought it would be helpful if we had these experts to advise them," he said.
In a decree last month, Rajapaksa said the commission would investigate the military's "adherence to or neglect... of laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law".
The commission is the latest investigation initiated by Colombo. Experts and activists have said earlier attempts amounted to a whitewash.