Sri Lanka marks end to civil war as a divided nation

Sri Lanka women read names of fallen soldiers engraved on the national war heroes memorial in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, May 19, 2018. Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday presided over a state remembrance at a war memorial in capital Colombo where politicians and family members laid wreaths and paid homage to the fallen soldiers. (AP Photo)
Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena attends a commemorative ceremony marking the ninth anniversary to the end of Sri Lanka's civil war at the national war heroes memorial in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, May 19, 2018. (AP Photo)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka commemorated the ninth anniversary of the end of its civil war as a divided nation, with minority Tamils calling for an international investigation into alleged wartime atrocities and the government defending soldiers from allegations.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday presided over a war memorial ceremony in the capital, Colombo. He said even though some accuse the military of war crimes, such allegations haven't been formally levied by world bodies such as the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in a 2015 report said if allegations against both the government forces and separatist Tamil Tigers could be established in a court of law, they may, depending on the circumstances, amount to war crimes.

Sirisena said there were no proper records to show the number of civilians who died in the 26-year civil war but said it could be around 100,000. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll at the same number, but it is suspected to be much higher since there were no independent witnesses to the final year of fighting.

The government pledged in 2015 to carry out an impartial investigation into alleged war crimes, but has taken no action so far.

In his remarks, Sirisena said that his government remained on the path to ethnic reconciliation.

At another ceremony held on Friday, C.V. Wigneswaran, chief minister of Tamil-dominated Northern Province, called for an international investigation into civilian deaths during the war.

"The international community without delay should set up an international strategic mechanism to ensure justice for the people affected," Wigneswaran said speaking in Mullivaikkal village, the scene of the final battle. He also called for every May 18 to be observed as "Tamil Genocide Day" and for the withdrawal of Sri Lankan armed forces from the former war zones.

In the first few years since the end of the war, Sri Lanka's government barred civilians from remembering their dead and held grand victory ceremonies parading soldiers, military ware and conducting air shows.

However, Sirisena, who was elected in 2015 on a platform of post-war ethnic reconciliation, has limited the victory ceremony to honoring soldiers while allowing Tamils also to remember their dead.

Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending more than a quarter-century of separatist civil unrest.

Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations. The government was accused of deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals and blocking food and medicine for the people boxed in the war zone. The Tamil Tigers were accused of conscripting child soldiers, holding civilians as human shields and killing those trying to escape from their control.

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