Sri Lankan policewomen march during a Victory Day parade in the southern town of Matara on May 18, 2014. - AFP
MATARA (Sri Lanka): President Mahinda Rajapakse led celebrations at a major victory parade to mark the fifth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist war, after banning commemorations for its victims.
As the envoys of Western nations stayed away from the parade, a defiant Rajapakse insisted he would not bow to pressure from foreign critics who are pushing him to investigate claims that tens of thousands of people died in the final stages of the conflict.
“Some governments are blind, deaf and dumb. They are opposed to our celebrating this victory,” Rajapakse said in a televised speech from Matara, his birthplace in the Sinhalese heartland of the island’s south.
“We are not celebrating victory in a war, we are celebrating peace. Irrespective of who opposes this, or who stays away, we will always commemorate this day,” he added.
The 37-year conflict effectively ended on May 18, 2009, when troops killed the Tamil Tiger rebels’ supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in a brutal assault on the northern town of Mullaittivu.
The UN has estimated that at least 100,000 people died in the entire conflict, about 40,000 of them in the final months of fighting.
Rajapakse however has denied any civilians were killed in the finale and is resisting calls for an international inquiry into claims that troops killed thousands of civilians who had been herded into no-fire zones.
His administration has also ordered a ban on all commemorations this weekend.
Police on Friday broke up a remembrance service that was being held in council offices in the battle-scarred northern town of Jaffna.
Around 7,500 troops took part in yesterday’s parade which featured tanks, gunboats and military aircraft.
Canada, a strong critic of Sri Lanka’s war record, had announced its top envoy in Colombo would boycott the parade while the top diplomats from other Western powers, including the United States and former colonial power Britain, were conspicuous by their absence.
Canadian High Commissioner (ambassador) Shelley Whiting said in a statement to a local newspaper on Friday that the parade was inappropriate because the government should be concentrating on reconciliation. — AFP