COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse hit back angrily on Thursday against allegations of war crimes which are set to overshadow this week’s Commonwealth summit, saying he had “nothing to hide” from his critics.
Rajapakse, who will chair the three-day summit in Colombo, told reporters he was ready to confront the likes of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron but would not be lectured to.
The summit has already been dogged by boycotts, with the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius all staying away over the bloody end in 2009 to one of Asia’s deadliest civil wars.
Rajapakse has been under fire from rights groups and United Nations bodies over his refusal to allow an independent investigation into the finale of the conflict, which pitted ethnic Tamils against the majority Sinhalese government.
“We are very open, we have nothing to hide,” the president, who is himself Sinhalese, told reporters on the eve of the summit.
Rajapakse said he was ready to meet Cameron to discuss allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan forces in the closing stages of the 37-year conflict in the island’s north.
“I will be meeting him and we will see what [happens], I will also have to ask some questions,” said the president, who visibly bristled and raised his voice as he answered questions from reporters.
Rajapakse, who was elected president of the former British colony in 2005, mounted a stout defense of his administration’s handling of allegations of rights abuses.
“We have a legal system in Sri Lanka,” he told the press conference. “We have a human rights commission, now the Commonwealth is ready to strengthen it. If there are any violations, we will take actions against anybody.”
The 67-year-old leader said his administration deserved credit for ending the conflict.
“People were getting killed for 30 years, at least after 2009 we have stopped it. There is no killing in Sri Lanka today.”
At least 100,000 people lost their lives in the conflict.
As well as the allegations against government forces, Tamil Tiger rebels—who were known for their trademark suicide bombings—are also accused of killing thousands of people.
Cameron, who intends to travel to the war-torn northern Jaffna peninsula, has said he wants to have “tough conversations” with Rajapakse during the summit.
The British premier, who has rejected calls to join the boycott, will be the first foreign leader to visit the north since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948.