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08 June, 2011 - Published 14:45 GMT

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

'One million' petition handed over to UN

The United Nations country office in Sri Lanka has received a huge petition, reported to have a million signatures, denouncing a recent report commissioned by the UN.

The report was highly critical of the island’s government and armed forces over their conduct towards the end of the civil war two years ago.

The petition said the report was against Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty and independence”.

The UN spokesman here, Tom Hockley, said the petition was several volumes in size.

It was handed in by a small delegation, who said they represented all of the country’s ethnic groups, and will be sent to Ban Ki-Moon as soon as possible.

Nationalist sentiment

State television said the petition had one million signatures.

The national population is 20 million.

In its wording, the petition strongly denounced what it called the “comments and decisions” in a recent report by a panel of experts commissioned by Mr Ban, who said there was a reasonable basis to believe that both sides in the war committed large-scale rights violations, some of which, if proven, would amount to war crimes.

The government has rejected the report and a minister, CB Ratnayake, started organising the petition even before it was published in late April.

But others have cast grave doubt on the initiative, especially when Mr Ratnayake took his campaign to the northern and mainly Tamil city of Jaffna.

A Jaffna newspaper said that, with army protection, the minister’s group had shouted anti-UN slogans and forced a lot of people to sign the document without knowing its contents – or promised them aid if they signed.

Nonetheless, whenever Sri Lanka comes under external pressure on human rights, politicians know they can incite nationalist and anti-Western sentiment among a section of the people.