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Sri Lanka's Military Parades in Celebration of Defeat of Tamil Rebels

Sri Lanka's president is calling for national unity, including outreach by Sinhalese to Tamils, as the island nation formally celebrates the end of the quarter-century civil war. President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke Wednesday at a military parade and victory ceremony in Colombo.

In the Sri Lankan capital, soldiers and military vehicles paraded across the Galle Face waterfront, celebrating last month's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The event was billed as a celebration of what was called the "defeat of terrorism."

President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the decades of conflict left 24,000 security personnel dead and another 5,000 disabled.

The president, addressing the troops, says they gave their feet, hands, eyes, flesh and blood to bring about a pleasant and prosperous nation.

Switching from the Sinhalese to Tamil language, Mr. Rajapaksa calls for national unity and he called on soldiers to win the hearts of the minority community.

President Rajapaksa says all Sri Lankans are the children of one motherland.  There can be no divisions in the country.  The war, he says, was against the LTTE, not innocent Tamils.

The majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese, who are mainly Buddhists, while the Tamils are predominately Hindus.

Many Tamils worry about further repercussions against the minority group after the rebels' defeat.

The Tamil Tigers waged war, dispatched suicide bombers, and assassinated politicians in an ultimately failed quest to establish an ethnic homeland on the island.

In his victory speech, Mr. Rajapaksa also called for a new era of Sri Lankan diplomacy.  The president hinted that favor would be shown to those Asian, African and Arab nations which supported his government during its controversial final offensive to destroy the Tamil rebels.
 
Some European nations were especially vocal in calling for restraint during the last weeks of combat.  Both the military and the rebels are accused of committing war crimes.

The United Nations estimates tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died or were wounded during the final months of fighting.  Nearly 300,000 Tamils, who fled the fighting, are in displacement camps.   

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