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 commemorations for its victims were blocked.
Most top envoys of Western nations stayed away from the parade, but a defiant Rajapakse insisted he would not bow to pressure from foreign critics who are pushing him to investigate claims that tens of thousands 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 leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels, 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 died 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.
Around 7,500 troops took part in the parade which featured tanks, gunboats and aircrafts.