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Group: Sri Lanka postwar policies threaten peace

An international human rights group on Friday warned that the militarization of Sri Lanka’s former war zone and discrimination against minority ethnic Tamils threaten to lead the island back into violence.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report that there are government moves to change the demographics in what were once Tamil majority areas by sending in ethnic Sinhalese settlers. Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in the country _ wielding the most power in the government, military and business community.

“By adopting policies that will bring fundamental changes to the culture, demography and economy of the Northern Province, the government of Sri Lanka is sowing the seeds of future violence there,” the report said.

Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 when government troops crushed separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, who fought for more than 25 years to create an independent state in the island’s north for Tamils after years of discrimination by Sinhalese-controlled governments.

Friday’s ICG report said important decisions of governance in the north were now being made by Sinhalese military officials and politicians at the exclusion of the local Tamil people and their elected leaders. The predominantly Tamil north now has streets and villages renamed in the Sinhala language, dotted with war monuments and Buddhist shrines, the religion of the majority.

Many of these are built on land that Tamils left behind during the height of the conflict, it said.

The ICG called on aid agencies supporting Sri Lanka’s postwar reconstruction to demand change in government policies and not to pay for “policies that may lead to violence.”

The government has continuously denied that it follows a policy of exclusion and says it is not creating Sinhalese settlements.

According to a U.N. panel report, tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed in just the last few months of the civil war, and hundreds of thousands more left homeless. Both the government and rebels have been accused of committing war crimes during the final stages of the conflict.

“While the situation is calm now, the Tamil population is exhausted by war, broken by defeat and, after decades of LTTE (Tamil Tigers) tight control, sadly acclimatized to authoritarian rule, it will not necessarily remain that way,” the report said.

Tamil lawmakers on Thursday asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to press the government to investigate alleged wartime abuses and share power with the ethnic minority to prevent renewed violence.

The United States is planning to bring a resolution before the U.N. rights council, currently meeting in Geneva, urging Sri Lanka’s government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and to seek reconciliation.

The ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government has arranged protests across the country against the resolution, which it calls interference in Sri Lanka’s affairs.

On Thursday, more than 10,000 people marched in the capital to denounce the proposed resolution. Smaller groups met with U.N., British, Norwegian and German officials at embassies to urge them not to support it.

Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance, said the government has not shown a genuine interest in sharing power, a long-standing demand of ethnic minority Tamils, despite promises made to the U.N. and other nations.

“As the opportunities for postwar peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka gradually slip away, the members of the UNHRC must act urgently to prevent an ominous slide toward a recurrence of the tragedies of the past,” Sampanthan said in a statement Thursday.

Cabinet Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told the U.N. rights council last month that the government already has taken steps for reconciliation and any external pressure would only impede the process. He called for Sri Lanka to be given time and space to continue with its program.


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