Sri Lankan Tamils push for au­ton­omy and jus­tice

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST - BY AMAL JAYASINGHE

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 — and they are pin­ning their hopes on an up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion.

Jaffna voted over­whelm­ingly in Jan­uary’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to oust the strong­man in­cum­bent Mahinda Ra­japakse, who main­tained de facto mar­tial law in the re­gion.

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 lo­cals say his 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 (NPC), 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 Aug. 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 ( 250 miles) north of Colombo, has thou­sands of bombed-out homes and many peo­ple still live in camps six years af­ter the war ended.

Si­vagnanam says there have still been no con­crete steps to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion af­ter Sirisena took power in Jan­uary.

But what he calls a “fear psy­chosis” has dis­ap­peared from the re­gion and state in­tel­li­gence oper- atives no longer barge into homes when fam­i­lies have friends over.

“Af­ter the new gov­ern­ment came to power, Tamil peo­ple are slowly breath­ing again,” the head of the lo­cal cham­ber of com­merce R Jeyasegaran told AFP.

“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.

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