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Sri Lankan President Calls for Reconciliation

FILE - Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena pledged Wednesday to pursue national reconciliation in a country still divided by a decades-long civil war that ended nearly six years ago.

He spoke in Colombo at an independence day ceremony that paid respect to all those killed in the 26-year war that pitted government forces against rebels seeking an independent state for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

"The biggest challenge today is to unite the hearts of the people of the north and south through a national reconciliation process," Sirisena said.

The president was elected last month, defeating former leader Mahinda Rajapaska, whose government rejected an international investigation into allegations of possible war crimes during the conflict.

Government troops killed as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians during the offensive that ended the war in 2009, according to a United Nations report. The U.N. has said the total death toll during the war could be as high as 100,000 people.

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