Parents, relatives pay homage to Sri Lankan soldiers killed in two-decade separatist war
Wed June 7, 2006 12:55 EDT .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - MAILAPITIYA, Sri Lanka - (AP) Hundreds of people lit clay lamps, offered flowers and wept over memorial stones Wednesday to commemorate soldiers who died in Sri Lanka - 's two-decade civil war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sri Lanka - 's President Mahinda Rajapakse led the memorial day ceremony, placing a floral bouquet and lighting a ceremonial flame amid tight security in the village of Mailapitiya, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of the capital, Colombo.
The government said about 18,000 troops and police have been killed since the Tamil Tigers began fighting for a separate homeland in 1983. Another 9,000 have lost limbs, said Col. Lalith Gunaratne who is responsible for the welfare of Sri Lankan forces.
``My son joined the army and served for less than one month when we heard the news of his death,'' said a weeping G. Anulawathie, 69, as she lit a clay lamp where her the name of her son, D.V.D Bandara, was engraved on a memorial stone. Bandara was killed in a battle in 2000.
``He decided to join the military because of economic hardships after my husband's death. He wanted to provide for his five brothers and sisters,'' Anulawathie said.
Security was tight close to the memorial park with soldiers and policemen carrying automatic rifles while keeping watch and frisking visitors in an effort to prevent suicide attacks.
Six years ago, Sri Lankan Cabinet minister C.V Gooneratne was killed by a rebel suicide bomber while marking the June 7 memorial.
``Over the last two decades many soldiers have laid down their lives ... While honoring their valuable sacrifices, we will not hesitate to take all the action needed to ensure the country's security, which was these soldiers' paramount goal,'' Rajapakse said in a statement made available at the ceremony.
His comments came as surging violence threatens to drag the island nation back to civil war, after a Norway-brokered cease-fire brought relative peace to the country for nearly four years.
The violence, which the government and the rebels blame on each other, has killed more than 375 people since the beginning of April.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels began fighting the government in 1983 to create a separate state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhalese-dominated state of discrimination.
More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the 2002 cease-fire.
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Published: Wed Jun 7 14:16:09 EDT 2006