The island's government said the massive military offensive that finally defeated the Tamil Tigers two years ago was a victory over terrorism, and that other countries could benefit from studying its success.
But New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged a boycott of the seminar, entitled "Defeating terrorism, Sri Lankan experience", over claims that thousands of civilians died in military bombing of so-called no-fire zones.
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Of the 54 countries invited, about 12 have declined, officials told AFP.
Among the nations not sending delegations are the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Japan and Switzerland, who had all pressed Sri Lanka to investigate the alleged war crimes.
China, the island's key arms supplier, is co-sponsoring the conference, which will also be attended by a delegation from Russia, another strong ally of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
"The Sri Lankan approach that succeeded in defeating the (rebels) was the result of learning from years of fighting