Sri Lanka calls for new era in international relations

Sri Lanka calls for new era in international relations

Sri Lanka calls for new era in international relations

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said it was time to start a new era in foreign relations after the end of the war with the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Rajapaksa, speaking at a national victory parade in Colombo to mark the end of the fighting with Tamil rebels, said "having won the freedom of our motherland, we must next establish our freedom and sovereignty internationally".

Sri Lanka's international relations have been strained mainly with Western countries which have called for investigations into alleged war crimes committed during the final phase of fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels in the northern part of the country.

"We have honest, close, and friendly relations with our neighbouring countries in Asia. We have also been able to build genuine good relations with the Arab and African countries," Rajapaksa said.

"Those honest friends have carried out the greatest responsibility towards our freedom and sovereignty in this era. We value very much the assistance we received from all those countries at this moment," Rajapaksa added.

The president said the Tamil rebels, who he referred to as "terrorists", were able to get the world to bring pressure on Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa said that in the war against Tamil rebels as many as 24,000 security personnel had died for the country and another 5,000 had been maimed.

The president did not mention the time frame in which the casualties were sustained, but it was believed that the toll was for the entire 26-year period of the war. Earlier Rajapaksa's brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said that in the final three years of the war some 6,200 government soldiers were killed.

A military parade in which all senior officers and some of the soldiers who took part in the operations against the Tamil rebels was held in a ceremony at the Galle Face Green, a sea-front ground in Colombo, Wednesday morning.

The military displayed some of the tanks, multi-barrel guns and rocket launchers used against the rebels in the campaign that lasted nearly three years before the rebel leadership was killed May 18.

During the ceremony, the commanders of the army, navy and air force officially handed over a scroll to the president, conveying the message of the conclusion of the campaign and the "liberation and re-unification" of the whole country under a single flag.

The rebels had been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and eastern parts of the country for the Tamil minority, which makes up about 18 percent of the population.

Sri Lanka's government denied shelling civilian areas in the last days of the war and rejected demands for better access of aid organisations to government camps holding hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils.

Despite the crushing of the rebels, heavy security was maintained in the capital with several roads closed to the public during the ceremony.