Sri Lanka staged a military parade Friday to mark the first anniversary of the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, which put an end to decades of civil war. The celebration was held as pressure mounts on Sri Lanka to probe allegations of widespread abuses committed during the last stages of the war.
Thousands of troops, including disabled soldiers in wheelchairs took part in the victory parade held in central Colombo Friday. Tanks and rocket launchers rolled down the city's main street, while warplanes flew overhead and navy ships sailed along the coast.
The parade was to be held last month, but had to be postponed due to heavy monsoon rains. It marks the first anniversary of the end of a three-decade long violent conflict led by Tamil Tiger guerrillas for an independent Tamil homeland.
During an address to troops, President Mahinda Rajapaksa defended his military against allegations that civilians were killed indiscriminately during the last stages of the miltiary campaign against the guerrillas, and surrendering Tamil Tiger rebels were shot.
"Our troops had carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights charter in the other," said the president. He claimed soldiers did not fire at a single civilian, and that military offensives were carried out only to wipe out terrorism.
Officials are trying to fend off growing demands for an independent probe into possible war crimes, said Jehan Perera, heads Colombo's National Peace Council.
"The Sri Lankan government is feeling very much under pressure and their response is to deny that there were significant civilian casualties during the course of the war. I think the Sri Lankan government can take the position that civilians were not deliberately targeted," said Perera. "But it will be difficult to take the position that there were no civilian casualties, because there is just too much evidence that there were thousands of such casualties."
Demands for an investigation into war crime allegations are being led by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.
After a two day visit to Sri Lanka, the United Nations top political official, Lynn Pascoe, said on Thursday that the U.N will soon establish a panel of experts to advise the U.N. Secretary General on his approach to Sri Lanka.
Two senior advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama, Samantha Power and David Pressman, have also met Sri Lankan officials this week to press Colombo to ensure accountability for war crimes.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa indirectly criticized the mounting foreign pressure for a war probe saying that countries which show sympathy towards terrorism and separatism will be the victims of terrorism.