COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka's president rejected international calls to remove military camps in the former northern war zone on Saturday, as the island nation marked the third anniversary of the end of its civil war.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said his government was not prepared to undermine national security by removing camps in the north because remnants of the separatist Tamil Tigers remain active.
"Some are shouting to remove the camps in the north," Rajapaksa told a ceremony marking the third anniversary of the war's end. "It is no secret that the LTTE leaders who conscripted child soldiers, committed war crimes are freely operating in foreign countries." LTTE is the acronym for the Libereation Tigers of Tamu Eelam.
He added that although the war is over, these separatist groups "still operate and carry the same demands."
Therefore, it is not possible to "remove camps in the north and to reduce our attention on national security," he said in a speech televised nationally.
His comments came as his foreign minister G. L. Peiris was visiting the U.S. on an official visit.
On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her meeting with Peiris "stressed the importance, as she always does, of demilitarizing the north" of Sri Lanka, during the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during her daily briefing.
Other countries and international human rights groups have also urged Sri Lanka to demilitarize the north after the war's end.
Sri Lanka showed off its military hardware during a victory parade, amid growing criticism over alleged rights abuses in the final phase of the quarter-century civil war.
The conflict that killed more than 80,000 people ended in May 2009, when government forces crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.
Artillery, tanks and rocket launchers were featured in the parade down Colombo's main thoroughfare, Galle Face, facing the Indian Ocean. Thousands of troops, including disabled soldiers in wheelchairs, joined in.
Warplanes and helicopters flew over Galle Face while navy gunships sailed along the coast.
Ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. sponsorship of a resolution passed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March to press Sri Lanka to conduct an independent probe into civilian deaths in the final months of the war.
Human rights groups have also accused Sri Lanka of foot-dragging and evasion on the issue.