Nationalists protest UN chief's visit to Sri Lanka

Krishan Francis - Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan ethnic Sinhalese nationalists on Thursday protested the United Nations chief's visit to the island nation, accusing him of interfering in its internal affairs.

Dozens of protesters gathered at two locations on the second day of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit. They shouted slogans accusing the world body of wanting to penalize Sri Lankan soldiers for ending a decades-long civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels.

They dispersed without incident after handing a petition to U.N. officials.

The visit is Ban's second to Sri Lanka, with the first coming in May 2009, days after Sri Lankan troops defeated ethnic Tamil rebels, ending the civil war. With the government having evicted all independent observers, including the U.N., Ban observed the destruction from the air during that trip.

Ban has since been calling for accountability over allegations of abuses by both government soldiers and Tamil rebels, who fought to create an independent state for the minority ethnic group complaining of systematic marginalization by successive governments controlled by the majority ethnic Sinhalese.

An experts' panel earlier appointed by Ban reported that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the fighting. A separate internal review by the U.N. acknowledged that the world body had failed to protect civilians.

The calls for accountability soured relations between Sri Lanka's previous hard-line government and the United Nations.

Ban held talks on Thursday with current President Maithripala Sirisena, whose government has promised to investigate the allegations.

"The secretary general pledged his continued support to Sri Lanka's broad and impressive reform agenda, including to the reconciliation, transitional justice and peacebuilding processes. He expressed hope for increased momentum in these important areas," the U.N. said in a statement after the meeting.

"The secretary general was encouraged by the president's leadership and commitment to stay the course and fulfil the aspirations of the Sri Lankan people in bringing lasting peace and prosperity for all," the statement said.

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