Home » News

Sri Lankan president woos Tamils

[AFP, Sunday, 10 January 2010 11:50 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s president on Sunday took his re-election campaign to the Tamil heartland of Jaffna for his first visit to the peninsula since troops crushed separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May.

Mahinda Rajapakse vowed to step up reconstruction efforts in the former war zone and promised speedy re-settlement of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians displaced by last year’s bloody offensive against the rebels.

"The president moved about freely and spoke with the civilians," his spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage said. "He also met with Hindu and Catholic leaders who thanked him for removing travel restrictions to Jaffna."

Rajapakse’s visit follows a similar campaign trip to Jaffna by his main rival, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, ahead of the election on January 26.

The minority Tamils, who constitute 12.5 percent of the country’s 20 million population, could be decisive if the majority Sinhalese vote is split.

Both Rajapakse and Fonseka, who was the main military architect of the Tigers’ defeat, are members of the Sinhalese majority and both look on the community as their vote base.

Fonseka’s supporters said new government concessions to the Tamils were no more than an "election gimmick".

The opposition People’s Liberation Front (JVP), which backs Fonseka, said Rajapakse had released 713 Tamil Tiger suspects on Saturday in a desperate bid for votes.

"There is no transparent basis for the release," JVP spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake told reporters. "We want to know on what basis they are still holding over 11,000 people in custody."

The army announced that 713 out of 12,000 Tamil Tiger combatants in detention were released at a ceremony attended by the president in the northern district of Vavuniya on Saturday.

The Tigers, who had fought for a separate Tamil homeland since 1972, were defeated by government troops eight months ago when the military killed guerrilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed.

The United Nations estimated that 7,000 mainly Tamil civilians perished in the first four months of last year before the fighting eventually ended.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.