Sri Lanka marks 3rd anniversary of end of war
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka's president rejected international calls to remove military camps in the former northern war zone, as the island nation marked the third anniversary of the end of its civil war.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said his government was not prepared to undermine national security by removing camps in the north because remnants of the separatist Tamil Tigers remain active.
"Some are shouting to remove the camps in the north," Rajapaksa said Saturday at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the war's end. "It is no secret that the LTTE leaders who conscripted child soldiers, committed war crimes are freely operating in foreign countries." LTTE is the acronym for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
He added that although the war is over, these separatist groups "still operate and carry the same demands."
Therefore, it is not possible to "remove camps in the north and to reduce our attention on national security," he said in a speech televised nationally.
His comments came as Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris was in the U.S. on an official visit.
In a meeting with Peiris on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "stressed the importance, as she always does, of demilitarizing the north" of Sri Lanka, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Other countries and international human rights groups have also urged Sri Lanka to demilitarize the north.
Sri Lanka showed off its military hardware during a victory parade Saturday, amid growing criticism over alleged rights abuses in the final phase of the quarter-century civil war.
The conflict that killed more than 80,000 people ended in May 2009, when government forces crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.
Artillery, tanks and rocket launchers were featured in the parade down Colombo's main thoroughfare, Galle Face, facing the Indian Ocean. Thousands of troops, including disabled soldiers in wheelchairs, joined in.
Warplanes and helicopters flew over Galle Face while navy gunships sailed along the coast.
Ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. sponsorship of a resolution passed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March to press Sri Lanka to conduct an independent probe into civilian deaths in the final months of the war.
Human rights groups have accused Sri Lanka of foot-dragging and evasion on the issue.