New President Maithripala Sirisena vowed Wednesday to end Sri Lanka’s pariah status by working with the U.N. and promised national reconciliation, six years after the island’s ethnic war ended.
In an address to the nation to mark Sri Lanka’s 67th anniversary of independence, Sirisena and his ministers also pledged never again to allow the “land to be traumatized by the shedding of blood of innocents”.
In last month’s election Sirisena defeated long-time strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who fell out with the West over allegations of wartime rights abuses by the military.
“We have to address our foreign policy problems. We will follow the U.N. charter and abide by the U.N. values,” Sirisena said in a nationally televised address.
Rajapakse enjoyed huge support among majority Sinhalese voters after overseeing the end of a separatist war by ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009.
But critics say he failed to bring about reconciliation in the years that followed his crushing victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
Rajapakse had also refused to cooperate with a U.N.-mandated investigation into allegations that government forces killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while defeating the separatists.
“In 2009, we ended the war because LTTE guns were silenced by the guns of our troops,” Sirisena said. “But, since then, we have failed to heal the wounds of war and win the hearts of all our people.”
“Reconciliation will be a priority for my government. We want to ensure a new political culture to place our nation among the important members of the international community.”
Shortly before his speech, Sirisena and his ministers stood on a stage outside the national parliament in Colombo and took a pledge to ensure the country did not return to war.
“We pledge our collective commitment to ensure that never again will we allow this land to be traumatized by the shedding of blood of innocents,” according to the pledge which was read out on the stage by three schoolchildren in Sinhala, Tamil and English.
The U.N. estimates at least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1972 and 2009.
Sirisena’s new government has already agreed to establish a domestic probe into the war crimes allegations. The previous administration had resisted such a move, insisting not a single civilian was killed by its troops.
Sirisena is to visit New Delhi later this month on what is expected to be his first foreign trip since winning power, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday.
“I look forward to welcoming President Sirisena later this month,” Modi said on his Twitter account in a goodwill message to Sri Lanka as the former British colony celebrated Independence Day.
“The bonds of history, culture & shared values that we share are unbreakable,” Modi added.