Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered a victory address to parliament on Tuesday, declaring that his country had been "liberated" from terrorism after defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels on the battlefield.
Rajapaksa spoke to a rapt assembly of lawmakers a day after government forces killed the last of the rebels' fighters on the battlefield in the north. The government said it had killed rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the final battle as well, but Rajapaksa never mentioned the rebel leader in his speech. Recounting how the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, once controlled a wide swath of the north and much of the east, Rajapaksa said that for the first time in 30 years, the country was unified under its elected government. "We have liberated the whole country from LTTE terrorism," he said, declaring Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate the armed forces.
The rebels, listed as terrorists by the US and European Union, had been fighting for three decades for a homeland for the mainly Hindu Tamil minority after decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority. Briefly addressing parliament in the Tamil language, Rajapaksa said the war was not waged against the Tamil people. "Our intention was to save the Tamil people from the cruel grip of the LTTE. We all must now live as equals in this free country," he said.
Rajapaksa has said in the past that he would negotiate some form of power-sharing with the Tamil community following the war and he alluded Tuesday to the need for an agreement.
"We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities," he said. "We have to find a solution based on the philosophy of Buddhism." He denied the country was riven by ethnic tension. "There are no minority communities in this country. There are only two communities, one that loves this country and another that does not," he said.
The war killed more than 70,000 people over the past quarter century. Another 265,000 ethnic Tamils were displaced in the recent offensive and many of them have been sent to overcrowded camps in the north.