Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has praised the country's military for ending the brutal conflict with the LTTE in 2009 and ushering in peace through a “humanitarian operation”, saying there was no hatred, anger or revenge involved in the nearly three-decade-long civil war.
In a statement issued to mark the War Heroes Day on May 18, Mr. Rajapaksa, who is also the Defence Minister, asserted that the armed forces, who “safeguarded the freedom and territorial integrity” of the country will never be forgotten, under any circumstances.
"Our armed forces put an end to the war and brought peace to the country through a humanitarian operation. There was no hatred, anger or revenge in it. Therefore, there is no room for racism or any other form of extremism in the motherland where peace was established. We regard it as a unique value in Sri Lankan society,” said Mr. Rajapaksa, who was Defence Secretary during the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.
The president, who is still facing pressure to resign for the country's current economic crisis, said the special day will be commemorated this year by recalling the immense sacrifices made by the armed forces, The Island reported on May 19.
Some Sri Lankans celebrated the 13th anniversary of the brutal war as War Heroes Day on Wednesday while others commemorated the deaths of thousands of war victims as Tamils Genocide Day.
LTTE’s 26-year brutal war
Then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 18, 2009 declared the end of a 26-year war in which over 1,00,000 people were killed and millions of Sri Lankans, mainly minority Tamils, displaced as refugees inside the country and abroad.
In the bitterly-fought conflict that started in 1983, the island nation’s military ended the brutal war by killing the leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought for an independent state for Tamils in the country’s north and east.
War Heroes Day
The Sri Lankan government has declared May 18 as the War Heroes Day to remember the war heroes who fought in the civil war. However, the minority Tamils commemorated the war-end anniversary by remembering their deceased relatives in Mulliwaikal, a village in the northern district of Mullaiteevu where the final fight had ended.
A United Nations report has said nearly 40,000 Tamils were killed in the final months of the war. The Sri Lankan government has failed to probe the human rights abuses during the war.
"Today we remember all those who lost their lives during the war and the families still seeking truth, justice and reparations,” UN Coordinator for Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a tweet.
“Dealing with the past is an important step to ensuring reconciliation and fulfilling the rights of the victims,” she said.
Tamil Genocide Day
People in the northern district of Vavuniya commemorated it as Tamil Genocide Day, economynext.com news website reported.
On a banner with flags of the United States and the European Union, the text written on it said, “This is an important day in our history. Today is the day in which Sinhalese killed 146,000 Tamils and left 90,000 women as widows, resulting in 50,000 children without any support and saw the forced disappearance of 25,000 people.”
According to the government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
The Tamils alleged that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war that ended in 2009 when the government forces killed LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Ethnic cleansing or humanitarian operation?
International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, but the Sri Lankan government has disputed the figures.
The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it was a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE's control.
Charles Nirmalanathan, a lawmaker in the opposition Tamil National Alliance, said on Wednesday the killing of thousands of Tamils has not been accepted both locally and internationally.
“So, we request both the international community and the Sri Lankan government to accept that there was a genocide during the war,” he said in parliament.
Alleged human rights violations
Sri Lanka is also facing a UN-led international probe into the alleged human rights violations during the final phase of the war, despite strong opposition by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government.
In his statement, Mr. Rajapaksa said, “We have gone through many challenging eras, and occasions, in the history. It should not be forgotten that the patriots always took the lead. The war heroes of the country represent this group. Therefore, it is important to recall that history, too, has given you the responsibility of working cautiously after prudently considering the current challenge."
Battling economic and political crises
He said no one had expected the crises Sri Lanka is currently going through.
"The economic crisis has expanded towards a political and social upheaval. Under any circumstances, we will not disregard the policy towards safeguarding the sovereignty and independence of this country. That is because our desire is to protect the motherland above all else," he said.
“There is no doubt that various local, foreign groups and individuals are trying to use the economic and political crisis as a pretext to undermine national security. We must defeat it together. Only then will the courageous war heroes’ commitment to the country be preserved,” he said.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948.
The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9 seeking the resignation of President Rajapaksa as the government ran out of money for vital imports.