Freed from Tamil terrorism, minority in Sri Lanka seeks greater say




Freed from Tamil terrorism, minority in Sri Lanka seeks greater say

The road blocks and military checkpoints are gone, and the restrictions on foreign tourists and journalists visiting the area have been lifted.

But the mostly Tamil residents of Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula say much more still needs to be done to heal the wounds of a long civil war. They are pinning their hopes on an upcoming general election, writes AFP’s Amal Jayasinghe.
Jaffna voted overwhelmingly in January's presidential election to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa under whose term Tamil terrorism was eliminated when the reviled terrorist leader V Prabhakaran was killed by the military. Fighters led by him slaughtered thousands of Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. 
His successor Maithripala Sirisena has drastically reduced the number of troops on the streets of Jaffna and lifted restrictions on diplomats, foreign tourists and journalists visiting. But during Rajapaksa’s tenure, journalists could go with Defense Ministry permission
But locals say Sirisena’s election promise to bring about national reconciliation between the Tamils and Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority remains unfulfilled.
“We will have reconciliation when the government gives us real autonomy under a federal structure,'' said C. V. K. Sivagnanam, chairman of the Northern Provincial Council, a local government body.
“Give us autonomy and 90 percent of the problems will be solved.''
The Tamils' longstanding demand for greater autonomy has become a key issue in the August 17 elections.
The NPC was elected in September 2013, five years after the war ended, but it lacks legislative authority.
Former Jaffna MP Suresh Premachandran said the Tamils were hoping to increase their influence in the next parliament.
“We hope to increase our say in the next parliament so that we can push for a political solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka,'' Premachandran told AFP.
“The election is an opportunity for the people to send a message to the government.''
Jaffna, 400 kilometers north of Colombo.
Sivagnanam says there have still been no concrete steps towards reconciliation after Sirisena took power in January.
But what he calls a “fear psychosis'' has disappeared.
“After the new government came to power, Tamil people are slowly breathing again,'' the head of the local chamber of commerce R. Jeyasegaran said.
“Now there is no fear. Earlier, we did not speak to anyone fearing arrests.''
The region's top civil administrator, Nagalingam Vethanayahan, said the military's engagement in day-to-day civilian life has diminished.
“We are now dealing with the police, not with the military,'' he said.
The new freedoms have encouraged residents to demand justice for the 40,000 Tamil civilians that the United Nations says were killed by government forces in the final phase of the 37-year guerrilla war that ended in 2009.
Sirisena has promised accountability and said he will establish a credible domestic mechanism to investigate fatalities during the war.
But Tamil politicians say Sirisena would be no better than Rajapaksa if he insisted on a domestic enquiry without involving independent international experts.
“We want the perpetrators of war crimes brought to justice,'' Sivagnanam told AFP at his home in Jaffna. “We don't have faith in local systems to investigate these allegations.''
Sinhalese believe inviting foreign investigators as interference in Sri Lanka's internal affairs and an affront to sovereignty.
NPC member Ananthi Sasitharan (Pictured) whose Tamil Tiger husband is still missing after surrendering to troops in May 2009, says Tamils cannot rely on a local investigation and there must be a credible foreign inquiry.
“If the government fails to ensure justice, I will go to the UN or any other international organization in search of justice,'' she told AFP at her home on the outskirts of Jaffna.

   
Freed from Tamil terrorism, minority in Sri Lanka seeks greater say Freed from Tamil terrorism, minority in Sri Lanka seeks greater say Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 8:55 PM Rating: 5

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