The government has yet to address the grievances of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils, three years after the end of the war. Issues include allowing the displaced to resettle in their originals lands and providing relief to those affected by the war.
Robert Fernando drives his truck along a lonely stretch of road at midnight, passing a causeway that leads to northern Sri Lanka.
A little more than three years ago, it would not have been possible for Fernando to travel this way because Tamil rebels held a major part of the highway leading to the north and no Sinhalese were allowed to enter by road.
“It is not the only benefit we enjoy with the end of the war, but we are also able to travel freely in the rest of the country where bombs went off frequently,” Fernando says.
Ethnic Tamils can also travel between the north and the south, reaping the benefits of peace after the military defeated the separatist rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) three years ago, ending a 26-year conflict.
The country is to commemorate the third anniversary of the war’s end Saturday with a military parade in Colombo that 12,000 security personnel are to attend.
The event is to mark the defeat of the rebels, but three years on, the country lacks a stable political solution to address the grievances of the Tamils, who make up 21 per cent of the country’s 20 million people.
Talks between a key minority party — the Tamil National Alliance — and the government collapsed last year after disagreement over the manner in which they should proceed.
Plans to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to make recommendations for a political solution have not materialized as two of the main opposition parties — the UNP and JVP — said they believe it will only waste time.
Mavai Senathiraja, a Tamil National Alliance member of Parliament, said the Tamil community is unhappy about the government’s failure to put forward a solution to their grievances.
“It is not just the political solution which has been delayed,” Senathiraja said. “There are many outstanding issues, such as allowing the displaced to resettle in their original lands in the north, releasing some of the lands held by the military and providing relief to the war-affected.”
“We think the government has no will to find a solution to the outstanding issues or provide a political solution or devolving powers to regions,” he said. The government said it needs to find what it calls a “homegrown” solution with a consensus of all the parties concerned.
“We also realize that the process that we have in mind must be a domestic process,” said External Affairs Minister GL Peiris in a bid to ward off international pressure.
“It can’t be donor-driven or foreign-owned,” Peiris argued. “That will be unhelpful in implementing the reforms that are required at this moment in history.”
But the country is far from reaching such a solution.
The government has been under pressure from the international community, including neighboring India, to implement recommendations made by a Sri Lankan government-appointed committee. The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in March calling for the early implementation of the recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The panel investigated the events in the final eight years of the conflict and made a series of recommendations.
In its report, the commission noted the “ending of LTTE terrorism and the advent of a strong and broad-based government” had provided a window of opportunity to promote reconciliation among communities.
But three years after the end of the war, there is still no political consensus on what to do to avoid the conflict flaring up again.