Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse yesterday rejected international calls to withdraw troops from the island’s former war zone as he marked the third anniversary of crushing Tamil rebels.
Rajapakse, in a national address, said he could not dismantle military camps in the embattled regions and undermine national security in a country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed.
“The diaspora has not stopped their activities [against Sri Lanka],” Rajapakse said, referring to Tamil separatists abroad. “It is no secret that LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders are freely operating abroad.”
“Some are shouting ‘remove camps, remove camps,’” Rajapakse said in his televised speech made at a military parade grounds in the capital.
“These camps are not in another country. We have troops elsewhere in the country as well,” he added.
Rajapakse’s remarks came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris in Washington that Colombo should demilitarize the embattled north and do more to protect human rights.
Last month, a delegation of Indian lawmakers also urged Sri Lanka to pull its heavy military presence out of the northern region, where the final battles were fought and the Tamil Tigers defeated in May 2009.
Rajapakse denied that his forces were involved in the civil administration in the Tamil-dominated north, but made it clear that troops would not be removed.
“What the Eelamist [those who support the Tamil separatist cause] terrorists could not do [dislodge the army from the north] through decades of war, they are now trying to achieve through other means,” Rajapakse said. “We will not allow it.”
Rajapakse’s troops ended 37 years of ethnic bloodshed by killing the leadership of the Tamil Tigers in a no-holds-barred final offensive.
The offensive triggered allegations of war crimes with rights groups saying that up to 40,000 civilians perished in the last months of fighting alone.
The UN estimates about 100,000 people died during Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict from 1972 to 2009.