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Sri Lanka Says It Will Find Home-Grown Solution to Tamil Issue

[Bloomberg, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 05:57 No Comment]

Sri Lanka told the United Nations Human Rights Council it will find a “home-grown” political solution to the issue of Tamil separatism now that the military has ended a 26-year war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

“The winning of the war was a triumph for all the people of Sri Lanka irrespective of ethnicity, religious belief or linguistic background,” Mahinda Samarasinghe, the minister of disaster management and human rights, said in Geneva yesterday.

While Sri Lanka was disappointed the Council last week held a special session on human rights in the country, it was “humbled” by members approving a resolution supporting the government’s efforts to deal with as many as 300,000 civilians displaced in the war, the minister said.

The UN wants the government to allow an inquiry into rights abuses by the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. European nations last week pressed the Human Rights Council to pass a resolution calling for an international investigation into violations during the conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will address the nation today at 9:10 a.m. local time to mark a National Victory Parade by members of the armed forces in the capital, Colombo.

The government will start a reintegration program for former combatants in the war, Samarasinghe said in a speech to the 47-member Council. It’s developing a national action plan to protect human rights and will set up groups to cover issues such as protecting civil and political rights, labor laws and preventing torture, he said, according to its Web site.

Displaced People

The resettlement of displaced people, living in more than 40 camps across the north, is the priority, Samarasinghe said. The government said last month it intends to resettle all displaced people in the region within 180 days.

“To sustain these initiatives, we need to be on our guard against any attempts to revive and revitalize separatism, disunity and destabilization,” he said. The government will “continue with its efforts to weed out terrorists who have infiltrated the ranks” of civilians and displaced people.

Civilian casualties in the war were “unacceptably high,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said two days ago.

“Any inquiry conducted by the international community would require, first, the full cooperation of the host government, or second, the support of UN member states,” Ban said in New York.

Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, in a video address to the Human Rights Council during last week’s special meeting, said there are “strong reasons to believe” that both the military and the LTTE carried out violations.

Holding Civilians

The LTTE is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the conflict zone, forcibly conscripting people and using civilians as human shields, Pillay said.

The government is suspected of using heavy weapons in a small, densely populated area even though it gave assurances it would protect civilians, she said.

Sri Lanka last week dismissed a report by the London-based Times that 20,000 civilians were killed in the last days of the war, mostly by army shelling.

The army drove the last Tamil Tiger forces into a strip of land on the northeastern coast, killing their chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and 18 leaders, in a battle two weeks ago. Thousands of civilians being held by the LTTE were rescued by the army, the government said.

“What needs to be acknowledged is that the government was successful, without a bloodbath, in resolving the largest hostage situation the world has seen in recent times,” Samarasinghe said.

[Full Coverage]

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