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Sri Lankan Soldier Sentenced to Death for Tamil Murders

FILE - A demonstrator holds a placard in Mumbai in a protest targeting Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa and alleged war crimes against Tamil civilians in his country, March 20, 2013.

A Sri Lankan army officer was sentenced to death on Thursday for murdering eight Tamil civilians, including four children, in a verdict officials said showed the state was dealing with crimes committed during its 26-year civil war.

Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake detained the four Tamil adults, three teenagers and one five-year-old in 2000, then cut their throats and buried them in a mass grave in the northern Jaffna peninsula, the Colombo High Court heard.

"Finally, after a long process, justice is delivered. ... This also shows that we definitely have the capacity to conduct a credible investigation," prosecutor and Additional Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanna told Reuters.

The United Nations and world powers have piled pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate atrocities carried out during its conflict with minority Tamil separatists that ended in 2009.

The U.N. Human Rights Council has carried out its own investigation, but this year deferred its report, saying Colombo had shown a new willingness to open up to scrutiny.

Military spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera told journalists that Thursday's verdict showed local legal mechanisms were working well.

A separate U.N. report has estimated about 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war, mostly by the army. The government of the majority Sinhalese island nation rejects that allegation.

Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country, has not carried out an execution since 1976 and at least 400 convicts are currently waiting on death row.