South Asia

Sri Lanka president condemns critics in victory pageant

President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has denounced critics of the army at a military pageant to commemorate last year's victory over Tamil Tiger rebels.

In a speech he condemned those who he said were trying to bring the country's armed forces into disrepute.

The military victory in May 2009 ended a decades-long war.

Both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of committing human rights abuses on civilians in the final stages of the conflict.

The anniversary celebration in Colombo was postponed by a month because of heavy rains.

'Path to reconciliation'

"It is understood by all that we carried out this great humanitarian operation only to eliminate terrorism," the president said. "We left no room for even one bullet to be fired against ordinary citizens.

"Our armed forces comprise those who went into battle carrying a gun in one hand, the declaration of human rights the other, as well as taking food for the liberated people of the north and full of human kindness in their hearts."

He said the government had appointed an independent commission "to inquire into the causes that led to terrorism, the lessons we can learn from this, and the path to reconciliation".

President Rajapaksa said that "for 30 long years" Tamil people in the north had not seen the development of roads, electricity and schools. He promised conditions for them would be improved by the end of the year.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says all of the country's top leaders were at the ceremony - apart from the man who commanded the army at the time, Gen Sarath Fonseka, who remains in detention.

In a solemn ceremony on Colombo's seafront promenade, President Rajapaksa hoisted the national flag.

Every regiment and division of the armed forces was at the pageant, where a drive-past of armoured vehicles and weapons took place.

Sri Lankans wanting to see the celebration had to watch it on television as the place where the pageant took place was sealed off.

Gen Fonseka is being held at the nearby naval headquarters but the government said his presence would have required special security arrangements.

On Thursday Gen Fonseka was let out of detention to attend his mother-in-law's funeral and was quoted as saying the victory parade was "not in the interests of the army".

The government says its victory marked the defeat of what it calls "the world's worst terrorist group".

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