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Monday, April 15, 2024

Sri Lanka approves committee on postwar reforms

(AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Wednesday approved the creation of a multiparty committee to recommend constitutional changes for ethnic reconciliation two years after a devastating civil war. However, a lawmaker from the largest party representing ethnic minority Tamils said it would not participate in the committee at this time because the recommendations of a previous committee had never been implemented.

“This too can be a time-buying tactic,” Suresh Premachandran of the Tamil National Alliance said.

The government has faced strong international criticism over lagging reconciliation efforts since the end of the 26-year war.

Under the law approved Wednesday, the new committee is to have 19 members from the ruling party and 12 from the opposition.

It is to recommend constitutional changes within six months to ensure that “all people will preserve and promote their respective identities and live with dignity and security as one nation.”

It also is to suggest steps to “enhance the unity of people of Sri Lanka” and “empower the people and country to promote socio-economic, political and cultural development.”

In the civil war, government forces crushed Tamil Tiger separatists who were fighting to create an independent Tamil state after decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are believed to have died. The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians were killed during the last phase of fighting.

Premachandran said the Tamil National Alliance would not immediately join the committee’s deliberations.

“We have a bitter experience with these committees,” he said.

He said the party instead would continue to talk directly to the government about power sharing based on federalism.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa already has rejected requests for Tamil control over local police and land in Tamil-majority areas.

Jehan Perera, an analyst with the activist group National Peace Council, said the committee would not be effective without the Tamil National Alliance.

“A dialogue must take place with the participation of the party that represents the majority of the Tamil people. It will be futile if the discussions take place without the TNA,” he said.

Rights groups and other countries have criticized the government’s postwar policies and called for power sharing.

The Belgium-based International Crisis Group said in July that government policies have hindered reconciliation and that Rajapaksa’s administration “has refused to acknowledge, let alone address, the Tamil minority’s legitimate grievances against the state.”

Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition has more than a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat legislature.


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