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Police in London probe war crimes committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka during 1980s

Police in London have opened an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka during the 1980s, Daily Maverick reported.

The probe follows publication earlier this year of a book about UK military veterans from a company called Keenie Meenie Services (KMS). It exposed how KMS members were involved in war crimes against Tamil civilians at the start of Sri Lanka’s civil war in the mid-1980s – and escaped accountability.

KMS, whose chairman was a former aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II, became involved in the conflict after a special adviser to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher suggested that UK support for Sri Lanka’s security forces “might be privatised”.

The company trained a new Sri Lankan police unit, called the Special Task Force (STF), which became notorious for carrying out atrocities, including a 1987 massacre at a prawn farm in Kokkadicholai, eastern Sri Lanka, in which 85 people were killed.

KMS also hired British pilots who flew helicopter gunships on combat missions, including an alleged raid on the village of Piramanthanaru, northern Sri Lanka, in which 16 people died in 1985.

A London-based civil society organisation, the Tamil Information Centre, raised my findings with the United Nations Working Group on Mercenaries, which monitors private military companies.

The UN body subsequently submitted concerns about KMS to Britain’s Foreign Office, asking what criminal measures the UK government had taken to “combat impunity”. Five UN rapporteurs, including experts on torture and disappearances, supported the submission.

British diplomats in Geneva responded last week, telling the UN that the Metropolitan Police has “received a referral concerning war crimes alleged to have been committed by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka during the 1980s”.

They added: “Following receipt of the referral, the War Crimes Team began a scoping exercise into the matter, in accordance with the Crown Prosecution Service’s published guidelines for referrals of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

When contacted by Declassified, the Metropolitan Police declined to comment further but confirmed that the scoping exercise was ongoing.

Dr Rachel Seoighe, a criminologist who alerted the UN on behalf of the Tamil Information Centre, told Declassified: “It is welcome that the Metropolitan Police have finally begun to investigate what KMS did in Sri Lanka, after allowing British mercenaries to operate with impunity for so long.”

She added: “The UN was right to raise concerns about the lack of action by the British authorities. Tamil survivors have waited decades to see those responsible for the massacres of loved ones held accountable.”

Labour MP Sam Tarry, whose Ilford South constituency in London is home to many Tamil refugees, told Declassified: “I welcome the news that the Met Police’s war crimes team has opened an investigation into the actions of British mercenaries in Sri Lanka at the start of the armed ethnic conflict.

“Hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled to the UK as a result, and it’s a travesty that the Conservative government of the time gave tacit approval to British mercenaries aiding a repressive regime that indiscriminately murdered civilians. Britain should be taking a lead in promoting human rights and democracy across the world, not being complicit in atrocities and exacerbating the refugee crisis.”

Exclusive: Met Police open war crimes investigation into British mercenaries