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Sri Lanka

The fighting is over, but animosity lingers on

Four years after the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, economic opportunities remain bleak for Tamils

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: August 02, 2013 08:19 AM GMT

Updated: August 02, 2013 04:10 AM GMT

The fighting is over, but animosity lingers on

Hundreds of thousands of Tamil people were left displaced in the north of the country after the end of the civil war in 2009

Karishini Puliyamurthi has applied for six government jobs in her hometown of Mannar in northwestern Sri Lanka, but she has never received a response, she says.

Having graduated during the country’s civil war, she claims to be well qualified but says that she is being overlooked because of her ethnicity: Puliyamurthi, 29, is a minority Tamil.

“There are hundreds of women and men who are qualified for jobs like me in our area but we Tamils are being ignored,” she says.

Resident in an area which was previously occupied and administered by the rebel Tamil Tigers, ethnic Tamils have continued to face discrimination by the government since the end of fighting in 2009, she says, worsening their economic situation.

“Government officials know whether we are Tamils or Sinhalese through our resume,” says Puliyamurthi.

According to Sri Lanka’s student union body, about 6,500 graduates are unemployed in Tamil areas out of a total population of just over one million people in the north. The total university intake in Sri Lanka is 22,000 every year and about 19 percent of young people are out of work.

Father Emmanuel Sebemalai, president of the citizens’ committee in Mannar, said that when there are vacancies, Tamil graduates are typically shunned and end up working as laborers.

“Some graduates are married with children [to support], and they’re still unemployed,” he said.

Sebemalai was among a group of Catholic clergy from Mannar diocese who met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo last month to express Tamil concerns, regarding particularly economic discrimination.

“It’s a good opportunity for our clergy to meet the president and tell him our grievances. We look forward to justice,” said Sebemalai.

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In response, Rajapaksa thanked him for updating the situation on the ground and agreed to look into problems Tamils are facing, according to Sebemalai.

Following the final bloody stages of the war in which 300,000 people were driven from their homes in the north, land has remained another key economic problem for the country’s Tamil population.

Although 5,000 families have returned home to claim their land after the war ended and demining operations have been completed, the army has held onto more than 6,000 hectares for military camps.

The army has pushed for legislation which will allow it to engage in economic activity, and the odds look good in its favor. The president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is the defense secretary, while a third brother, Basil Rajapaksa, is the economics minister and a fourth, Chamal Rajapaksa, serves as the speaker in parliament.

For the Tamils, this creeping militarization spells disaster, says Paikiasothy Sarawanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Monitoring Election Violence.

“There is growing evidence of this all over the country and especially in the north, where there are the largest land grabs and military camps,” he says. “Political meetings are violently disrupted [still] and printing presses burned.”

The Jaffna-based Udayan newspaper suffered the latest in a series of attacks on its premises in the former Tamil Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in April when a journalist was attacked.

Army spokesman Brigadier Ruwam Wanigasuriya said that most of the land occupied during the war had been handed back to the original owners. There are plans to eliminate 13 army camps, he added.

But Bishop Thomas Saundranayagam of Jaffna said that during this month alone more than 2,100 Tamils have filed land petitions with the Court of Appeal. 

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