Monday, November 29, 1999

Sri Lanka marks 1st anniversary of civil war`s end

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Sri Lanka showed off its military hardware during a victory parade Friday to celebrate the first anniversary of the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, amid growing criticism over rights abuses alleged in the last phase of the quarter- entry civil war.The war that killed more than 80,000 people ended last May, when government forces crushed the rebels who had been fighting for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils. The parade had been planned for last month but was delayed because of heavy rains and floods.Artillery guns, tanks and multi-barrel rocket launchers were featured in the parade down Colombo's main thoroughfare, Galle Face, facing the Indian Ocean. Thousands of troops, including those who participated in military offensives and disabled soldiers using wheelchairs, also joined the parade.Warplanes and helicopters flew over Galle Face while navy gun ships and attacking crafts sailed along the coast in view of the city.The military celebrations came as Sri Lanka faced growing international criticism for not examining alleged rights abuses committed during the last phase of the war. Rights groups have said they have photographic and video evidence and have called for war crime investigations.According to U.N documents, more than 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the conflict.The Tamil rebels fought for a separate state, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The United Nations says between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the war.Government troops were accused of shelling a small strip of land where hundreds of thousands of people were boxed-in during the war's final stages. The rebels were accused of killing noncombatants trying to leave the area they controlled and firing artillery from civilian-populated regions that led to retaliatory military fire.The government last month established a commission to look into the final phase of the conflict, but officials have refused calls to establish an international tribunal.The United Nations, meanwhile, plans to appoint a panel of experts to look into human rights issues in Sri Lanka despite opposition from the government.U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe on Thursday said he expects Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to announce the appointment of the panel early next week.Pascoe declined to comment on its functions, but the U.N. Has previously said the panel would advise Ban "on the way forward on accountability issues related to Sri Lanka."Sri Lanka strongly opposes its formation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa in March called it "totally uncalled for and unwarranted."

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