Yesterday’s elections in Sri Lanka’s Northeastern Province is the most significant step the government has taken since the end of the civil war four years ago to address grievances of the Tamil community.
Voters in Sri Lanka‘s north thronged polling stations on Saturday in an election that threatens to rekindle animosity between the government and ethnic minority Tamils, four years after the military crushed separatists and ended a 26-year war.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has denied that the Army killed LTTE chief Prabakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran. “Had it happened, I would have known [it]. It is obvious that if somebody [from the armed forces] had done that, I must take responsibility. We completely deny it. It can’t be,” he told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.
ALMOST FOUR years ago, the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a decisive victory in a 26-year-long civil war with rebels from the island’s minority Tamil community. The cost was horrific: A United Nations investigation subsequently found that up to 40,000 civilians may have died in the government’s final offensive. But the triumph made Mr. Rajapaksa a hero among the majority Sinhalese community and gave him an opportunity to modernize his country while healing its ethnic rift.
HIS foes accuse Mahinda Rajapaksa of many sins during his seven years as Sri Lanka’s president. They blame him for the savagery that cost so many civilian lives as his army defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers in 2009. They bridle at how he has carved up the government among his brothers, like a thriving family-run conglomerate. They resent the amendment of the constitution pushed through in 2010 to remove the limit on his tenure of two six-year terms, and to give himself legal immunity and the final say in appointments to the civil service, the judiciary and the police. And they suspect his regime of connivance in the beatings, disappearances and murders that have been used to intimidate critics in the press and elsewhere.
Last month the United Nations published a highly critical internal report in which it admitted it didn’t do enough to protect Tamil civilians in the final months of the Sri Lanka civil war. In late 2008, the UN had withdrawn staff from the northern part of the country in anticipation of the Sri Lanka government’s bloody military offensive against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly known as Tamil Tigers). Tamil civilians had pleaded with the UN to stay at the time, but the international organization said it was unable to ensure the safety of its staff members. Still, the new report raises real questions about the international community’s response during and after the conflict.
Violent clashes broke out on November 27, Martyrs’ Day for Tamil, between students of Jaffna University and Sri Lankan security forces. Each year Tamils use Martyrs’ Day to honor friends and family members who were killed in the Sri Lanka Civil War (1983-2009). The civil war pitted the Tamil militant group, the LTTE (often called the Tamil Tigers), against the Sri Lankan government forces.