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Sri Lanka leader asks Trump's help to drop war crime charges

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's leader is seeking the support of President-elect Donald Trump to free Sri Lankan troops from war crime allegations from the country's decades-long civil war.

President Maithripala Sirisena said he has already sent a message to Trump, seeking his support.

The statement signals a retraction by Sirisena's government of its promise to the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of war crimes against government troops and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in the civil war, which ended in 2009.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights had called last year for the appointment of a hybrid court comprising local and international judges. But Sri Lanka, in a resolution co-sponsored with the U.S. at the council, had agreed to investigate allegations through its own judicial system with international technical support.

Sirisena told a party meeting over the weekend that he would discuss the Human Rights Council's resolution with Trump and send "special representatives to request (Trump) to free our country from this situation and help us to build a society where we could live freely."

Sirisena said he would also make a similar appeal to incoming U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

His statement comes in the wake of rising pressure by hard-line groups from the ethnic majority Sinhalese that accuse Sirisena's government of betraying the military at the behest of Western nations.

Sirisena's predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who led the military campaign to crush the rebels and rejected calls for investigations during his tenure, has been trying to woo the public back to him on the issue.

A U.N. report says there are strong indications that both government soldiers and Tamil rebels committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 25-year separatist war.

The U.N. initially estimated that at least 80,000 people were killed throughout the conflict, but a U.N. experts panel reported later that some 40,000 Tamils may have been killed in just the last few months of the fighting.

Sri Lankan soldiers are accused of deliberately targeting civilians and hospitals, blocking food and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zone. The rebels were accused of recruiting child soldiers, endangering civilians by holding them as human shields and killing those trying to flee their control.

From the time the war ended, the U.S. has been at the forefront in demanding investigations of allegations, and ties between the two countries were strained over Rajapaksa's reluctance to probe the rights abuses. Relations with the U.S. have improved since Sirisena took office last year.