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Year after war, Sri Lankan Tamils pray for victims – khaleejtimes

[MISC, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 16:09 No Comment]

A year after the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Hindu priests offered food, fruits and flowers to deities Tuesday and prayed for the souls of thousands of minority Tamils killed in the violence.

Many were expected to attend but only 20 people showed up for the commemoration ceremony in the former Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold of Batticaloa, apparently fearing government reprisals.

On May 18, 2009, the government declared final victory in the 25-year civil war with the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the feared leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and the capture of the final stretch of rebel-controlled land.

The carnage of the last few months of the war between the rebels and government forces dominated by the Sinhalese majority killed thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone.

While the government prepared its own celebrations for later this week — including a fundraiser for disabled soldiers, memorials for war heroes and unveiling of a victory monument — Hindu priests and a few relatives of the Tamil victims gathered in Batticaloa to mourn their dead.

The rebels used to control this area in Sri Lanka’s east before government forces drove them out in 2007, foreshadowing their final defeat in the north two years later.

Priests lit a fire and offered burnt grains and fruits at a temple, and appealed to the gods for the victims to be spared another round of the rebirth and suffering that are part of Hindu belief.

Nithyakalyani Saravanabavan, 42, prayed for her three brothers, all slain rebel fighters, and her two cousins who died, caught in the crossfire.

“I had four brothers and only one of them is alive today. I prayed that there may never be another war and such human losses,” she said.

Even one year after the war ended, it remained impossible to tally the number of the dead and missing, said P. Ariyanenthiran, a lawmaker for Tamil National Alliance party, which organized the ceremony.

The government has repeatedly denied reports from human rights groups that thousands of civilians were killed in its final onslaught of air attacks, artillery fire and mortar shells.

The International Crisis Group said in a report Monday it believed at least 30,000 civilians — and possibly as many as 75,000 — remained unaccounted for.

Tamil lawmaker S. Yogeswaran said many people were scared away from Tuesday’s ceremony by fear of government reprisals and only 20 showed up.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was re-elected in January on the strength of his war victory, has delayed carrying out his promise to work toward a political compromise with the Tamil minority to resolve the underlying tensions that led to the war in the first place.

The government appointed an eight-member committee Monday to look into why a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire collapsed and to propose measures to prevent the country from sliding back to violence.

Meanwhile, in an act of defiance, expatriate supporters of the Tamil Tigers were meeting in Philadelphia, the United States, May 17-19 to continue from overseas the campaign for a Tamil independent state.

A statement from the organizers declared they were forming a “transnational government” — apparently a self-declared government-in-exile represented by Tamil expatriates living in various countries. It said 87 of its planned 112 representatives have been elected by Tamil expatriates from several European countries.

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