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Sri Lanka military blocks protest over missing relatives

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Military says action was for protesters' own safety

* U.S. urges Sri Lanka to allow free movement of people

By Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO, March 6 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's security forces blocked hundreds of mostly ethnic Tamils from travelling to Colombo for a protest on Wednesday to demand justice for relatives missing after the island's war.

The military said the protesters were stopped for their own safety after reports their vehicles were been attacked. The opposition say they were kept away from the capital because the government did not want the protest to go ahead.

In the end, the mainly elderly women protested in Vavuniya, where they had been halted some 260 km (160 miles) north of the capital, holding pictures of their relatives and demanding the government help find them, television footage showed.

"The police and army prevented us coming to Colombo saying that the Vavuniya to Colombo passage was not safe. But we don't buy that story," Mano Ganesan, an opposition politician who was with the protesters, told Reuters.

Ganesan said the government, which has been accused of a myriad of abuses in the chaotic end of the war, was behind the move. The military denied that.

"There had been some complaints to police that there were stonings of buses and vehicles on the way to Colombo. So for their own safety, police have stopped them," military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said.

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in 2009, in the final months of a war that began in 1983, a U.N. panel has said, as government troops advanced on the last stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for an independent homeland.

The panel said it had "credible allegations" that troops and the Tamil Tigers both carried out atrocities and war crimes, but singled out the government for most of the responsibility for the deaths. The government rejects the allegation.

Sri Lanka faces a second U.S.-sponsored resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, over the conduct of its military.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo voiced concern over the blocking of the protest and called on Sri Lanka to allow free movement of citizens who have been asking "for information about their missing loved ones".

"Since last year's UNHRC resolution, the United States has grown increasingly concerned by the lack of progress on these issues, as well as backsliding on other important areas of fundamental democratic rights," the embassy said.

Separately in Colombo, several hundred protesters handed over a letter to the U.N. office demanding an account of how tens of thousands of service personnel and civilians were killed or left missing at the hands of the Tamil Tigers. (Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Alison Williams)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130306/sri-lanka-military-blocks-protest-over-missing-relatives