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Sri Lanka’s president stands by his armed forces

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka » Sri Lanka’s president vowed Friday to protect the country’s armed forces from possible international action over allegations of human rights violations during the final months of the island-nation’s 26-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking at a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the war’s end, said his forces adhered to international human rights law as they fought separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

"We will not betray you to the world," Rajapaksa said, addressing the armed forces. "Our forces carried the firearm in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. Our forces never harbored hatred toward any community or individual."

"Looking at how other countries fight wars, we are proud of the humaneness of our military campaign," he said.

A recent report by a U.N. panel of experts accuses Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil rebels of serious rights violations and potential war crimes and recommends an independent international inquiry.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he cannot initiate an international inquiry without a mandate from either the Sri Lankan government or the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, Security Council or General Assembly. It is unlikely Sri Lanka would consent to an international inquiry.

The U.S. has urged Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations on its own, but it is unlikely to do so.

The U.N. report says government forces deliberately targeted civilians and hospitals, and blocked food and medicine for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone. It also accuses the Tamil Tigers of recruiting child soldiers, using civilians as human shields and killing those trying to flee from their grip.

The government has denied the allegations and called the report biased.

Rajapaksa on Friday castigated ethnic Tamil expatriates in Europe and the U.S., saying they are discrediting Sri Lanka internationally, resulting in the panel report.

"They are using the freedom in those countries and electoral franchise to work against our country," he said.

According to the U.N., between 80,000-100,000 people may have been killed in the country’s civil war, including at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians killed in the last five months of the conflict.

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