Will Ranil Wickremesinghe regain support of Tamil and Muslim voters? By DBS Jeyaraj

Sri Lanka’s last official census was taken in 2012. According to that census, Sri Lanka’s majority ethnic community the Sinhalese comprises 74.9 % of the island nation’s population. Numerically, the second largest ethnicity is the Sri Lankan Tamils who are 11.1% of the population. The third largest ethnicity is the Sri Lankan Muslims or Moors who comprise 9.3% of the population. The fourth largest ethnic group is the Tamils of Indian origin known as “Malaiyagath Thamizhar” (Hill Country Tamils) who are 4.1%.

The three numerical minorities namely the Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Indian Tamils together are 25.5% of the population. These three ethnic groups form the majority in some Sri Lankan districts. In other districts they are a substantive segment of the population. Since the people of all districts vote together in the Presidential elections, the entire island is transformed into a “single” constituency with a 74.9% Sinhala majority and 25.5 % non – Sinhala minorities.

Therefore the three ethnic minorities have played a significant role in presidential elections from the time the executive presidency was introduced. The voting pattern of the Tamil and Muslim communities in previous presidential elections was discussed in detail by this column last week.

The focus of this series of articles has been on incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s strategy and plans about contesting the 2024 presidential polls. As such this week’s article would try and assess the plus and minus points of President Wickremesinghe vis a vis the Tamil and Muslim voters.

Ranil Wickremesinghe as mentioned earlier has generally been popular among the Tamil and Muslim voters of Sri Lanka. The bulk of Tamil and Muslim voters supported him in 1999 and 2005 when he directly contested the presidential elections. The three minority ethnicities also strongly supported the presidential candidates backed by Ranil in 2010, 2015 and 2019 namely Sarath Fonseka, Maithripala Sirisena and Sajith Premadasa.

There is optimism in the UNP that the Sri Lankan Tamils will be very supportive of Ranil. These sections opine that Ranil could appeal to the Tamil people directly regardless of Tamil party support and harvest Tamil votes

Tremendous Jolt

The United National Party (UNP) in general and Ranil Wickremesinghe in particular received a tremendous jolt in the 2020 Parliamentary elections. The party polled only 249,435 (2.15%) votes in the country. For the first time in its history, the grand-old party failed to get an MP elected. The UNP polled only 30,875 (2.61%) in Colombo which was considered its stronghold for decades.

This electoral debacle was mainly due to the bulk of the UNP’s sitting MPs breaking away and forming the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) under Sajith Premadasa’s leadership. While the Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) swept the polls in 2020, the SJB came next. Premadasa became the leader of the Opposition.

Though Ranil had much political support among Tamils and Muslims for many decades, the 2020 poll reversed the situation. It was the UNP breakaway, the SJB led by Sajith Premadasa, which got the bulk of Tamil and Muslim votes. In fact, one-thirds of the MPs elected from the SJB in 2020 are Muslims and Tamils.

The question that arises at this juncture is whether Ranil Wickremesinghe can win back the Tamil and Muslim votes lost by the UNP to the SJB in 2020? Can Ranil regain the support of Tamil and Muslim parties and voters to help him win the 2024 Presidential poll? Let us briefly gauge the situation in terms of each of the three main ethnic groups in this regard.

Independent Candidate

It is clear that Ranil Wickremesinghe will contest the presidential elections as a non -party independent candidate. He will be supported by an alliance of political parties, groups of MPs, individual MPs and organizations. Ranil however will not be a candidate of this alliance. Instead the alliance will only back the non -affiliated Wickremesinghe. Hence the extent of support Wickremesinghe could get from the three minority groups can only be estimated by the number of Tamil and Muslim MPs and parties backing him.

Ceylon Workers Congress

Let us take the Tamils of Indian origin known as the Hill Country Tamils (Malaiyagath Thamizhar) first. The largest Trade union and chief political party representing the Up Country Tamils is the Ceylon Workers Congress. The CWC is now a constituent of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government. It has two MPs elected from Nuwara Eliya in Parliament. CWC Gen. Secy Jeevan Thondaman is a Cabinet minister. CWC President Senthil Thondaman is the Eastern province Governor. The CWC will back Ranil strongly at the elections.

Ranil’s bond with the CWC was further cemented on May Day this year. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) held its rally in Kotagala. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who was the chief guest at the huge CWC rally brought joyful news to the workers gathered in Kotagala. He announced to a wildly cheering audience that the daily wage of plantation workers had been raised from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,700.

The 700 rupee increase amounted to a 70% pay rise. The president displayed a copy of the Gazette proclamation to the people. He had taken the trouble to get it gazetted on April 30. The positive effect of the 700 rupee wage increase will transcend beyond the estate line rooms and impact on the whole community. It will demonstrate that the President and Government is concerned about them.

The three numerical minorities namely the Sri Lankan Tamils,Muslims and Indian Tamils together are 25.5% of the total population. These three ethnic groups form the majority in some Sri Lankan districts

Tamil People’s Alliance

Though the CWC is the foremost Party of the Hill Country Tamils, it does not have a monopoly of Parliamentary seats. In fact it is the Tamil People’s Alliance (TPA) that has the largest number of Up Country Tamil MPs in Parliament. The TPA is an alliance of three parties namely the Democratic People’s Front (DPA) led by Mano Ganesan, the National Union of Workers (NUW) led by Palani Digambaram and the Up Country Peoples Front (UCPF) led by V. Radhakrishnan.

The TPA contested the 2020 Parliamentary polls on the SJB ticket and got six seats. Three in Nuwara Eliya, one each in Badulla, Kandy and Colombo. One MP Aravinthakumar elected from Badulla crossed over to the SLPP Government in 2020 and was expelled from his party. He is now a state minister in the Ranil-led Government. The TPA has so far remained with Sajith Premadaa’s SJB in the opposition. There are however rumblings of discontent and grumblings of dissatisfaction within the SJB bosom.

There has been much speculation that the TPA will split with the SJB and support Wickremesinghe’s candidacy at the right time. The TPA refusal to sign a memorandum of understanding with Sajith’s SJB is a possible pointer. It indicated that the TPA did not want to tie-up with the SJB prematurely. The alliance wanted to weigh its options and decide at the opportune moment. In short the TPA wants freedom to transfer allegiance to Ranil whenever it wants to do so. Until then it will be in but not of the SJB. Some also opine that the TPA may get divided on this issue with some MPs staying with Sajith and others throwing in their lot with Ranil.

Ranil-Sajith Clash

The current UNP-SJB split is basically an ego clash between Ranil and Sajith. There are no major policy differences. In fact they are the same ideologically. The SJB itself is old UNP wine in a new SJB bottle. There is much yearning among the rank and file of both parties to re-unite and confront the SLPP and JVP together. This grass-root feeling is reflected among the Tamil and Muslim party allies of the SJB too.

It is perhaps due to this factor that TPA leader Mano Ganesan along with Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem are trying hard to re-unite the SJB and UNP. If there is rapprochement between Ranil and Sajith, minority party leaders like Mano and Rauff would be spared the unenviable task of choosing between the two. This however seems unlikely and so the TPA will have to decide whether it supports Ranil or not in the near future. This may cause a split in the party.

Vadivel Suresh

Apart from the CWC and the TPA, Ranil has received a shot in the arm in the form of Badulla MP Vadivel Suresh the influential Secretary of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU). Suresh who opted to desert Ranil and join Sajith got estranged from the latter. He is now back with the UNP and was seen on the UNP stage on May Day. Thus Ranil appears to be on a strong footing as far as “Malaiagath Thamizhar” voters are concerned with the CWC, LJEWU and elements of TPA support.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

Let us move on to the Sri Lankan Muslims. The chief Muslim Party the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) remains with the SJB in the Opposition though some of its MPs supported the Gotabaya Government earlier. The SLMC too has not signed a MOU with the SJB as requested by Sajith recently. SLMC leader Hakeem like TPA leader Ganesan has been trying hard to reconcile Sajith and Ranil and re-unify the UNP.

Observers of the Muslim political scene feel that the SLMC would support Ranil at the presidential election. Though Rauff Hakeem has been playing his cards close to his chest, a number of MPs in the SLMC are for Ranil. There is every likelihood of them revolting if Rauff remains with Sajith. Besides the newly appointed Wayamba Governor Nazeer Ahamed is capable of triggering a pro-Ranil revolt within his former party the SLMC if necessary.

ACMC-NC

The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Rishad Bathiudeen will also support Wickremesinghe when elections are announced. He is already displeased with Premadasa over several issues. ACMC dissidents like MPs Rahman and Musharraf are also supportive of Ranil.

The National Congress led by AHM Athaullah is firmly backing Ranil. Athaullah is the uncrowned king of Akkaraipattu. Former Batticaloa MP Hizbullah who has considerable support in Kattankudi will back Ranil.

Thus the three Muslim parties (SLMC, ACMC and NC) dissident Muslim MPs and influential politicians like Hizbullah will support Ranil. Furthermore Muslim MPs elected directly on the SJB ticket like Hashim, Mujibur Rahman and Imran Maharoof may also support Ranil if and when they split from the SJB. It appears therefore that Wickremesinghe is likely to get much Muslim support in the presidential election.

Ranil Wickremesinghe as mentioned earlier has generally been popular among the Tamil and Muslim voters of Sri Lanka

EPDP-TMVP

Finally we come to the Sri Lankan Tamils. What Ranil is sure of at present is the support of two Tamil parties in addition to his own UNP. The EPDP led by Douglas Devananda and the TMVP led by Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan are part of the Wickremesinghe Government. Devananda is a Cabinet minister and Pillayan a state minister. The EPDP has two elected MPs. The TMVP’s Pillayan got the highest number of preference votes in Batticaloa. Devananda also has a limited yet stable vote bank in the North.

Batticaloa MP Viyalendran who split from the TNA and joined the SLPP in 2018 is now a state minister. He too is likely to back Ranil. Then there is Angajan Ramanathan who was the only MP to get elected on the SLFP ticket in 2020. Angajan got the highest number of preference votes in 2020. The politically astute Angajan is likely to hitch his wagon to the Ranil star at the right time.

Former Supreme Court Judge and Jaffna district MP C.V. Wigneswaran voted for Ranil at the presidential poll held in Parliament on 20 July 2022. Therefore he is likely to support Ranil but the consistently inconsistent Wigneswaran may change his mind again. In any case it does not matter because CVW has negligible support among the people now.

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress has two MPs. But the party led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam will not participate in a presidential election and has called upon Tamils to boycott the poll.

Tamil National Alliance

The premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamils is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which got ten seats in the 2020 elections. The TNA is fractured now with two of its three constituents the TELO and PLOTE forming a new alliance called the Democratic Tamil National Alliance (DTNA) with three other parties including the EPRLF. The chief TNA constituent Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) now stands alone. Of the original ten TNA Parliamentarians, the ITAK has six MPs while the TELO and PLOTE have three and one respectively.

It is too early and too dicey to attempt to gauge what the ex-TNA constituent parties will do in the 2024 presidential poll because none of them have declared their intention so far. These parties may decide only after elections are officially announced.

However, in the 2022 Presidential election the TNA declared its support for Dullas Alahapperuma and not Ranil Wickremesinghe. Yet there were unconfirmed reports that only four of the ten MPs had voted for Dullas. The rest had either voted for Ranil or spoiled their votes. Ranil himself hinted jovially that some in the TNA voted for him. Some reports say the DTPA may support Ranil though the front is yet to declare its position openly.

ITAK -Two Camps

Meanwhile the ITAK itself is now fragmented into two camps. One is supportive of S. Shritharan and the other supports MA Sumanthiran. Furthermore the ITAK is now enmeshed in a legal tangle. The hopelessly divided party seems unable or unwilling to present a common position in courts. Against this backdrop it is virtually impossible to predict what the ITAK may do in the presidential poll. However, there are straws in the wind which indicate that some individuals in both the ITAK camps are likely to support Ranil.

There is optimism in the UNP that the Sri Lankan Tamils will be very supportive of Ranil. These sections opine that Ranil could appeal to the Tamil people directly regardless of Tamil party support and harvest Tamil votes. Given the positive image enjoyed by Ranil among North-eastern Tamils, this move could prove successful.

Tamil Presidential Candidate

However there are two current developments that could work negatively against Ranil. The first is the move by certain quarters to field a common Tamil presidential candidate. If this happens, the “common Tamil candidate” may siphon off potential Tamil votes supportive of Wickremesinghe.

“Mullivaaikkaal Kanji”

The second is the conduct of the Police in handling the peaceful commemoration of the Humanitarian tragedy that engulfed Tamils in May 2009. The 15th anniversary is being memorialised by the distribution of porridge called “Mullivaaikkaal Kanji “ in coconut shells to people in a token gesture of remembrance. This is to denote the fact that hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in Mullaitheevu district could only have kanji as food in those dark days.

The Police in the Eastern province have cracked down hard on persons who allegedly distributed Mullivaaikkal Kanji. Male Policemen have reportedly dragged wailing women by their hair and arrested them. Three women including an undergrad and a man have been remanded for allegedly distributing porridge to people. The Police action is saddening and angering the Tamil people.

This high handed, unreasonable conduct is reflecting badly on President Wickremesinghe. So much so that ITAK spokesperson M.A. Sumanthiran addressing a media conference reportedly said “Ranil Wickremesinghe need not come here canvassing for votes if this continues”.

Basil’s presence at Ranil’s election committee opposed

Several powerful figures in the president’s election operations committee have strongly objected to the presence of Basil Rajapaksa and his followers at its meetings.

Anura Yapa and Nimal Lanza boycotted its meeting that was followed by dinner on Monday in protest against Rajapaksa being invited.

Yapa’s New Alliance and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s Nimal Siripala faction strongman Duminda Dissanayake have decided to boycott committee meetings if Rajapaksa attends.

They say president Ranil Wickremesinghe could obtain the support of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna at the presidential election, but he should not get the Rajapaksas on his election stage.

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Sri Lanka may have to depend on India or nuclear to reach low carbon target: researcher

Sri Lanka will need to either connect to India or set up a nuclear power plant if the country is to reach its renewable energy targets due the country’s weather patterns, a researcher and policy advocate has said.

Sri Lanka has set ambitious goals for renewable electricity generation by 2030, apparently without much prior study or any costs being revealed when the target was set by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rohan Pethiyagoda, a taxonomist and researcher who had also been senior state officials involved in policy at one time said overall Sri Lanka used a large volume of biomass (firewood) for cooking.

“We need to recognize, of course, that about 60 percent of Sri Lankan households still use firewood as their primary fuel,” Pethiyagoda told a climate forum organized by Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“Bless them, because they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for cooking. Even the tea industry, one of our largest exports, uses biomass as its primary fuel for about 90 percent of its production.”

In the electricity sector, where the renewable lobby and other activists oppose coal on the basis of carbon emissions based on international trends, as well as dust, base load still has to be generated if thermal generators are replaced.

Solar power is available only for a few hours in daytime and it can also vary depending on cloud cover.

Hydro power (run of the river plants) is more stable but is dependent on rain. Large hydros with storage can be used for peaks, industry analysts say.

Wind is available throughout the day but can also be unstable. The problem of variability (non-firm energy) can be solved to some extent through ramping and battery storage at additional cost, analysts say.

A renewable plant in Poonakary with battery storage was priced at around 48 to 49 rupees (about 15 US cents) based on public statements.

Meanwhile Pethiyagoda said Sri Lanka’s weather patterns created an additional problem.

“We have this unusual thing for our renewable energy in Sri Lanka, that at the tail end of the northeast monsoon, from about December to April, we have a dry period in this country, which means that our hydro potential during those months goes down,” Pethiyagoda said.

“Now, as luck would have it, our wind potential goes down at the same time.”

As a result, Sri Lanka needs a reliable alternative to the current coal baseload.

“So for that reason especially, we need to look at either connecting to India’s grid in the long term or having a nuclear facility in Sri Lanka if we want to be low carbon. And of course, we need to replace our vehicle fleet.”

“And our base load can probably come from nuclear,” Pethiyagoda said.

“But whichever way we do it, the cheaper way would be for us to connect to India’s grid.

“Whichever way we do it, we’re looking at an investment of about 40 billion dollars. And then we have the problem of looking at how wind and solar will behave.”

It was not clear what the 40 billion dollar investments would be made up of.

Sri Lanka’s external debt as at December 2024, including unpaid principal after default was 37.3 billion US dollars.

In 2021 when the 70 percent target was unveiled in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto power engineers said a 53 percent energy share planned for 2030 in a general plan at the time was was equal to that of Germany.

Pushing up the share to 70 percent would require billions of dollars of extra investments, they said.

After the central bank cut rates and triggered an external default however, Sri Lanka growth, and power demand in the next few years is expected to be lower than before extreme macro-economic policy.

Related Sri Lanka to invest US$11bn by 2030 to meet renewable target

In 2023, the CEB said about 11 billion US dollars would be needed to meet the 70 percent target.

Parliament to be dissolved in June: Dhammika to be PM candidate! SLPP

The parliament will be dissolved on either 14 or 15 of June, claimed Udayanga Weeratunga, a close friend to Rajapaksa family and ex-ambassador to Russia.

Incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe will not contest the next presidential election either, he also said in an interview with ‘Hiru TV’.

Final agreement has already been reached with the president to hold a general election first, said Weeratunga, adding that just one person from the SLPP was aware of that.

Businessman Dhammika Perera will be the SLPP’s prime ministerial candidate at the election, he added.

When contacted for a comment, a senior official close to Wickremesinghe said the president had no intention of dissolving parliament and going for a general election first.

His election campaign has already been launched by a foreign advertising firm, the official added.

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US ambassador Chung visits north

The United States stands in solidarity with all Sri Lankans, reflecting on the resilience and hope for a united future, said US ambassador Julie Chung.

She said so on X on the anniversary marking 15 years since the end of the civil war.

“We remain a steadfast partner to the Sri Lankan people, including those who continue seeking justice, equal rights, and access to opportunities,” Chung said.

“We reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka’s journey towards a prosperous and inclusive future that embraces its diversity for sustainable peace and process,” she also said.

Meanwhile, Chung visited the north and met with families of the disappeared, former combatants and former PTA detainees.

“Even today many Sri Lankan citizens face continued intimidation. All families have the right to memorialize loved ones,” she said.

The US ambassador met with the north’s governor P.S.M. Charles to discuss economic development and social issues in the province.

We also discussed ways the US can further support small businesses, agricultural modernization and reconciliation efforts, she added.

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UK supports meaningful progress in Sri Lanka

The United Kingdom continues to lead international efforts on human rights and transitional justice in Sri Lanka, working with our partners to support meaningful progress that will allow the Sri Lankan people to engage on these issues and remember their loved ones freely, said UK foreign secretary James Cameron.

He was giving a statement on the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict.

“Sri Lanka is an important Commonwealth partner, and we will continue to work with all communities to make the most of the country’s extraordinary potential.”

“As we mark the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, my thoughts are with all those killed and disappeared, and with their loved ones who continue to search for answers,” said Cameron.

“I heard first-hand about the devastating consequences of the war when I visited Northern Sri Lanka in 2013.”

“There I made a commitment that the UK would support truth, justice, and accountability for all,” he added.

Fifteen years after the end of the war, victims still await justice at Mullivaikkal: Amnesty

Speaking at a commemoration marking the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s internal armed conflict on 18 May 2009, which culminated in the brutal Mullivaikkal offensive where countless civilian lives were lost, Secretary General at Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said:

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict.

It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.

Ahead of this event, we have witnessed clampdown on the memory initiatives, including arrests, arbitrary detentions and deliberately skewed interpretations of the Tamil community’s attempts to remember their people lost to the war. Authorities must respect the space for victims to grieve, memorialise their loved ones and respect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by those on both sides of the conflict, yet there has been little in the way of an independent or impartial national inquiry into such serious crimes.

Meanwhile, the families of those who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict have been left to search desperately for their loved ones. It is truly heartbreaking to hear from victims how long they have been demanding justice in vain.

The Sri Lankan government is best placed to provide answers to the victims, however numerous domestic mechanisms to establish accountability in the last 15 years have been mere window dressing.

The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released earlier this week too reiterates the gaping deficits in Sri Lanka’s accountability initiatives that has contributed to impunity remaining deeply entrenched.

Tens of thousands of victims and their families continue to suffer in anguish as they await truth, justice, and reparations. We stand in solidarity with them here in Mullivaikkal today.”

Background:

During the internal armed conflict from 1983 to 2009, Sri Lankan government forces and their armed political affiliates committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and acts of torture against Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE also launched indiscriminate suicide attacks on civilian targets like buses and railway stations, assassinated politicians and critics, and forcibly recruited children as fighters.

Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law peaked in the final months of the conflict, most notably in May 2009 when some 300,000 displaced civilians were trapped between the warring parties.

It was at Mullivaikkal, a small village in Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, where the final offensive between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE took place, killing at least 40,000 civilians according to UN estimates.

Each year, on 18 May, a memorial event at Mullivaikkal brings together thousands of war-affected Tamils to commemorate those lost to the war and demand justice and accountability.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this week released a report on accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

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Dead or alive? Parents of children gone in Sri Lanka’s civil war have spent 15 years seeking answers

For 15 years, Rasalingam Thilakawathi has been trying to find out what happened to her daughter at the end of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. Or if she might still be alive.

The last evidence she has is a photo from a newspaper that shows her daughter, who was 19, sitting inside a bus along with others. The photo, according to the newspaper, shows captured Tamil Tiger fighters in the last stages of the war in May 2009.

Now, 15 years after the end of the long battle between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists, Thilakawathi searches for answers. Was her daughter among the 100,000 people killed in the 26-year-civil war? Many more people are missing.

“Tell me whether she is dead or alive,” the mother, who lives in Moongilaaru village of Mullaitivu district, asks authorities again and again. “If you shot her tell me that you shot her, I will accept it.”

In the years since the war ended, many of those who lost children or other family members have grown too feeble to actively search for their loved ones. Others have died.

“I don’t want to let go but I can’t walk properly now,” says 74-year-old Soosai Victoria who has been searching for her son who went missing at 21. “I am praying for him to return. I believe that he is there,” Victoria said.

On Saturday, a memorial service marked the 15th anniversary of the war. It took place on the strip of land in Mullivaikal village where the civilians had pitched their tents for the last time before the whole area fell under government forces. Thousands of people were believed to have died here.

The island nation of Sri Lanka has been riven by the conflict between the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the minority Tamils, who are Hindu and Christian. The mistreatment of Tamils sparked a rebellion, with Tamil Tiger fighters eventually creating a de facto independent homeland in the country’s north. The group was crushed in a 2009 government offensive that UN experts say killed tens of thousands of Tamils, many of them civilians.

Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations. The government was accused of deliberately targeting civilians and hospitals and blocking food and medicine for those trapped in the war zone. The Tamil Tigers were accused of conscripting child soldiers, holding civilians as human shields and killing those trying to escape.

Many blame the United Nations for failing to step in to stop the bloodshed.

Farmer Subramaniam Paramanandam recounts how he and a dozen others begged U.N. officials and other international humanitarian groups not to leave the battle zone.

As the Tamil Tigers retreated under a government onslaught, Tamil civilians fled with them into their shrinking territory.

“We heard that the international organizations were packing up to leave,” Paramanandam recalls the exit of the last batch of humanitarian workers. “Hearing this, about 10 or 11 of us ran to their offices. We pleaded with them with clasped hands asking them not to leave.”

Their pleas were not answered, and fighting escalated.

“Our sufferings can’t be put to words and we only had our trust in the U.N. and the international organizations. Nothing happened,” he said.

Severe criticism against the U.N. led then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up an internal review panel to look into its actions during the last phase of the war.

Its 2012 report said the relocation had a severe impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and reduced the potential for protecting civilians.

Citing the report Ban said it concluded that the U.N system failed to meet its responsibilities.

“This finding has profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the organization for help,” Ban said.

In Vejle, Denmark, people gathered from all over Europe to remember slain Founder of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran died in 2009, but in the proceeding years, some have come forward to say Prabhakaran is alive and living abroad, collecting money on his behalf. His family is trying to dispel the myth he is alive.

Thilakawathi and other parents of missing children have demonstrated and protested, and said they will continue until they get answers. She has visited state security agencies and government-appointed commissions but hasn’t received any information. She said her daughter was recruited as a child soldier by the Tamil Tigers three years before she went missing. She worked in their computer department, fearing her siblings too will be taken if she left them.

Many parents have refused to accept death certificates for their children without information on what happened to them.

Sellan Kandasamy left his injured wife as he crossed over with his family to the government-controlled area when fights were nearly ending. He hasn’t heard from her since.

“She wasn’t registered and we were not allowed to ask for details. We requested that someone stayed with her but we were chased away with poles. So we had to leave her on the rubble and leave,” said Kandasamy as his tears welled up in his eyes.

Paramanandam himself has lost three sons, one fighting for the Tamil Tigers and two who were not part of fighting went missing as their family moved to escape shelling.

Paramanandam’s plea now is that the U.N ensures that there is accountability for the excesses committed by both sides.

“Whatever happened should be investigated truth must be found out there should be accountability and there should be assurance for such things not to happen again.”

A new U.N. Human Rights Commission report recommends establishment of an independent prosecution and a special court to bring perpetrators to justice. It also says that the international community should initiate prosecutions in their own countries.

“This report is yet another reminder that tens of thousands of Sri Lankans who were forcibly disappeared must never be forgotten,” U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said. “Their families and those who care about them have been waiting for so long. They are entitled to know the truth.”

Families complain on over 400 Sri Lankans in Russia-Ukraine war

Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry has received over 400 complaints from family members of citizens recruited by mercenary companies to fight in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Authorities launched an investigation earlier this month into reports of Sri Lankan nationals with military backgrounds being trafficked to fight in Ukraine.

In response, the Defence Ministry set up a hotline for family members to lodge complaints after a few returnees exposed the deadly conditions faced by mostly ex-soldiers fighting primarily for Russia. The Ministry reported that a total of 411 complaints have been received so far.

It was reported that not only former members of the security forces but also citizens without any military training have been recruited as mercenaries in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The government has decided to send a delegation to Russia to identify and repatriate its citizens fighting for Russia in Ukraine.

Sri Lanka Tamils mark 15 years since end of civil war – AFP

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community marked 15 years since the end of the island nation’s civil war on Saturday in an emotional ceremony that proceeded despite fears authorities would attempt to prevent its staging.

Public events celebrating the Tamil Tigers separatist group — which fought a no-holds-barred battle to establish an ethnic minority homeland — are illegal and authorities have blocked past memorials.

Tamils say the events are held to remember all victims of the decades-long war, which concluded in 2009 after a military offensive in the last Tigers stronghold. The operation was condemned internationally for the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians.

“Thousands died here the day before the war ended,” a 41-year-old Tamil village official, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told AFP at the memorial site in Mullivaikkal.

“There were lots of wounded people crying for help,” he added. “This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Several thousand Tamils had travelled to the village for the remembrance, where they lit oil lamps to commemorate the dead.

– ‘Impunity is prevailing’ –

Sri Lankan authorities have repeatedly disrupted similar memorials in the island’s former war zones over the years and arrested participants, but Saturday’s ceremony went ahead without incident.

This year it was attended by Amnesty International’s global chief Agnes Callamard, the most senior foreign dignitary so far to attend a remembrance event in Sri Lanka’s battle-scarred north.

The rights watchdog has for years pressed Sri Lankan authorities, who have repeatedly refused to permit an international probe into wartime atrocities, to properly investigate and prosecute those responsible for abuses.

“We are here to remind the international community that there are people in Sri Lanka waiting for justice,” Callamard told reporters after the event.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, which in 2022 voted to recognise May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day, said on Saturday his country would “always advocate for justice and accountability for the crimes committed during the conflict”.

“Today, we honour the victims, survivors, and their loved ones, who live with the lasting pain caused by this senseless violence,” Trudeau said in a statement.

– Intimidation continues –

Tamil residents near the ceremony site told AFP that security forces had been noticeably more active in their communities as the anniversary neared.

“There is heavy surveillance of the people, and it is intimidation,” one Tamil resident said Thursday, asking not to be named for fear of harassment.

Saturday marked 15 years since the killing of the Tamil Tigers’ charismatic but reclusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had led the separatist group in open rebellion against Sri Lankan forces since 1972.

His death in the village of Mullivaikkal was the culmination of the lightning military offensive that killed at least 40,000 civilians in the final months of the fighting, according to UN estimates.

Sri Lankan forces were accused of indiscriminately shelling civilians after telling them to move to “no fire zones” to clear the path of their assault.

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