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Treatment of Displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka Under UN Scrutiny

While Sri Lanka continues celebrations of its defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers, the international community is calling for the country, run by the Sinhalese majority, to be sincere in its pledge for national reconciliation. The primary focus is on the treatment of 300,000 Tamils in displacement camps in the north.

A national ceremony to honor the heroes of the just-ended quarter century civil war opened with prayers offered by Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian clergy.

It was a display of social unity the government is eager to propagate in wake of the failed quest by Tamil rebels to split the island.

Both the military and the Tamil Tigers are accused of targeting civilians during the war's climax.

President praises military

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking to the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans on the grounds of the Parliament, spoke in defiance of such international criticism.

The president praises his military commanders for the victory but notes there are those trying to haul Sri Lanka before the war crimes tribunals. Mr. Rajapaksa says he is even "willing to go to the gallows" for the sake of the nation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to discuss the issue next week.

Combat zone described as 'eerie'

In the first independent account of what the last combat zone in Sri Lanka looks like, the chief aide to the U.N. Secretary-General has described the area as "almost eerie."

Vijay Nambiar says he circled, in a helicopter, the northeastern strip of coast land for 20 minutes.

"It almost looked like a ravaged area. There were a large number of vehicles which were burned," said Vijay Nambiar. "Large sections of the area, the trees were burned. And the clusters of the tents in the camp, which is so closely concentrated together, all seemed to have been virtually battered."

Nambiar added as best as he can tell it did not appear civilians were still in the camp when it was destroyed.

UN secretary-general to visit refugee camp

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, during a brief visit Saturday, is scheduled to tour a camp housing displaced Tamils, fly over the final combat zone and meet with the Sri Lankan president.

Nambiar says the visit by his boss will focus global attention to the conduct during the conflict, the plight of the 300,000 Tamils displaced by the final offensive and the government's pledge to improve social and political conditions for the minority community.

"The world is watching the actions that have been taken and the actions that will be taken, is being taken by the government," said Nambiar.

Civilians believed to be among war victims

According to the United Nations, the quarter-century long civil war led to the deaths of between 80,000 and 100,000 people. It says more than 7,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the final months of the war.

Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary says the conflict, since 1981, resulted in the deaths of 24,000 military personnel. During the final battle, early this week, the government claimed it wiped out the top leadership of the rebels, including LTTE founder Velupillai Prabhakaran. Defense officials say his body has now been cremated and the ashes scattered into the air to prevent any final resting place becoming an attraction.