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Sri Lanka

Tamil war victims wary of Rajapaksa's triumph

Landslide win for the former president's SLPP in Sri Lanka's local elections has been branded 'a victory for extremism'

Niranjani Roland, Colombo

Niranjani Roland, Colombo

Published: February 16, 2018 10:46 AM GMT
Tamil war victims wary of Rajapaksa's triumph

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, seen here campaigning for the 2015 presidential election in Colombo, is distrusted by many Tamils. (ucanews.com photo)

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's stunning victory in local government elections has reopened old wounds for Tamil war victims.

The landslide win for his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party has disturbed Tamils seeking the whereabouts of relatives who disappeared during Rajapaksa's regime.

Rajapaksa, who was president from 2005 to 2015, presided over the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), putting a brutal end to a 26-year civil war in 2009.

He remains popular among large sections of Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community but is generally distrusted by many Tamil minorities.

The Rajapaksa regime resisted calls for accountability for war crimes that took place during the civil war, with the UN estimating that as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the conflict.

Ananthy Sasitharan, a Tamil activist and provincial minister, said the SLPP's election victory was a threat to human rights.

"We see this as a victory for extremism," said Sasitharan, whose husband was forcibly disappeared near the end of the war in 2009.

"The Rajapaksa regime always suppressed Tamils, violated human rights and prevented justice for rights violations and war crimes."

Kasipillai Jeyavanitha, leader of the Forum for Forcibly Disappeared Relatives in Vavuniya, said the Rajapaksa regime was responsible for many disappeared people.

"We haven't got justice even eight years after the war ended, but we pressure him continuously," said Jeyavanitha.

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"He should answer for our disappeared relatives because we handed over our children into the hands of the military during his regime."

Father Jeyabalan Croos of Mannar Diocese, a Tamil human rights activist, said the UN called a hybrid court to investigate allegations of war crimes.

"The U.S. later co-sponsored a resolution against war crimes with the government, but no justice was given to our Tamil people," he said.

Relatives of disappeared people are continuing to protest to find their loved ones.

In the local government elections, Rajapaksa's SLPP, formed only in 2016, took 44.65 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) won 32.63 percent of the vote, while President Maithripala Sirisena's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) came a distant third with only 13.38 percent.

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