War

Sri Lanka's president stands by his armed forces

AP News
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Posted: May 27, 2011 4:05 AM
Sri Lanka's president stands by his armed forces

Sri Lanka's president vowed Friday to protect the country's armed forces from possible international action over alleged human rights violations during the final months of the island-nation's 26-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking at a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the war's end, said his forces adhered to international human rights law as they fought separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

"Our troops went to the battlefront carrying a gun in one hand, the human rights charter in the other," he said. "Therefore, when we see how some countries carry out operations against enemies today, we are proud of the humanitarian nature of our operation."

Rajapaksa told his troops he would stand by them.

"We were with you in the battlefield. It is same today," he said. "We will not betray you before the world."

According to the U.N., between 80,000-100,000 people may have been killed in the war, including at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians killed in the last five months of the conflict.

A recent report by a U.N. panel of experts accuses Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil rebels of serious rights violations and potential war crimes and recommends an independent international inquiry.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he cannot initiate an international inquiry without a mandate from either the Sri Lankan government or the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, Security Council or General Assembly. It is unlikely Sri Lanka would consent to an international inquiry.

The U.S. has urged Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations on its own, but it is unlikely to do so.

The U.N. report says government forces deliberately targeted civilians and hospitals, and blocked food and medicine for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone. It also accuses the Tamil Tigers of recruiting child soldiers, using civilians as human shields and killing those trying to flee from their grip.

The government has denied the allegations and called the report biased.

Amid intense international pressure to investigate abuses, Sri Lanka appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission last year, but the U.N. panel said the body does not meet international standards and several members have conflicts of interest.

Rajapaksa on Friday castigated remnants of the Tamil Tigers and their supporters in Europe and the U.S., saying they are discrediting Sri Lanka internationally, resulting in the panel report.

"Even though terrorism was eradicated from Sri Lanka, terrorists living abroad continue to work to destroy our country," he said. "Those abroad, misusing the democratic freedom and their right to vote in the countries of their domicile, are influencing those countries against us."

He said rather than focusing on the past, Sri Lankans must work toward building communal harmony.

"I emphasize to all political parties and groups that it will do no good to reopen the healing wounds, to continue to dig up the past, and creating disharmony and hatred among people will be of no benefit," Rajapaksa said.