Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said the war of 2009 was against terrorism and not against the Tamil community. Rajapaksa made the statement during an event, titled “Indo-Sri Lanka Relations: The Way Forward”, organised by the Virat Hindustan Sangam in Delhi.

The civil war between the Sri Lankan government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who were fighting for an independent homeland for themselves ended nine years ago. The campaign had led to the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on May 18, 2009.

Rajapaksa said not completing the military action would have been a “betrayal” of future generations, The Hindu quoted him as saying. “We did not at any time, wage an ethnic war: the military action was certainly not directed against the Tamil community,” Rajapaksa said. “It must not be forgotten that the reach of this terrorist organisation was not confined to Sri Lanka, but extended to Indian soil where they assassinated [former Prime Minister] Rajiv Gandhi and many others.”

The former Sri Lanka president refuted allegations of human rights violations against his country’s military and described the claims as “false”. He said the “eradication of terrorism” was not confined to benefit one community or country.

Rajapaksa said reports of the number of fatalities from the military action were exaggerated. “This is false and malicious propaganda...the number of casualties, including terrorist casualties, would probably not have exceeded, 8,000,” the former president claimed.

He acknowledged India’s “abiding friendship” which was proven by its “rapid response to Sri Lanka’s needs” during the civil war.

At the event, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy introduced Rajapaksa as a front runner for the next government in Sri Lanka and “hopefully president of Sri Lanka soon”.

Rajapaksa also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit.