Colombo: Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils today rejected government plans for a truth commission to promote reconciliation after decades of ethnic war, insisting on an international inquiry. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera unveiled a range of reconciliation measures yesterday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, two days before the release of a long-awaited report on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes.
But Tamil leaders said the new unity government’s plans for a truth commission and an office for war reparations were not enough, amid concerns abuses would not be properly investigated. “The minister tells us to have confidence and trust them. But … he himself acknowledges that their track record is not good,” said Suresh Premachandran from the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front.
“That is why we say: have an internationally independent inquiry.” Tamil legislator Dharmalingam Sithadthan also rejected the commission in favour of an international inquiry, adding that the ethnic minority was also seeking a greater share of political power. Tamils have demanded greater autonomy in areas of the war-ravaged north and east of the country where they are concentrated. The war ended in 2009 when troops crushed Tamil rebels fighting for a separate homeland on the Sinhalese-majority island.
“You can’t just pay compensation and forget about it. We need a credible political solution,” said Sithadthan, leader of the Democratic People’s Liberation Front. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Tuesday the plans aimed to resolve reconciliation issues so that “all Sri Lankans are treated equally” and “together we look at the future”.
Wickremesinghe briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the developments during an official visit to New Delhi. A former Norwegian peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Eric Solheim, also welcomed the plans, saying on Twitter that they would be a “sea change for Sri Lanka” if implemented.
President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January promising reconciliation and accountability for alleged atrocities committed by troops under the command of then-president Mahinda Rajapakse. Rajapakse resisted Western pressure to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by his troops in the final months of the conflict.
The Human Rights Council will tomorrow release the report on Sri Lanka’s alleged crimes during the war. The report had initially been scheduled to be published in March, but UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had recommended it be delayed for six months to give the country’s new government a chance to cooperate with investigators.