UN chief urges Sri Lanka to accelerate reconciliation efforts

Church official said UN Secretary-General failed to address important issues during three-day visit
UN chief urges Sri Lanka to accelerate reconciliation efforts

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his wife Ban Soon-taek with Sri Lankan Mass Media and Parliamentary Minister Gayantha Karunatilleke (center left) and Director General of the Government Information Department Ranga Kalansuriya on Sept. 2 in Colombo. (ucanews.com photo)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Sri Lankan government to speed up its reconciliation efforts with the Tamil minority and to return land to those displaced by the conflict that ended in 2009.

While acknowledging progress made by the Sri Lankan government toward peace and reconciliation, Ban told the press Sept. 2 in Colombo that more effort is required to heal the wounds of war.

"It is important to reduce the number of the military in former conflict zones and implement a fast track to return the lands of war affected people," said Ban on what was the last day of his three-day official visit to the island nation.

"Victims cannot wait forever to heal their wounds and to have their voice heard. They need solid transitional justice mechanisms," he said.

According to the UN the war — between government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone.

Thousands of people, mostly Tamils, disappeared  during the war, while land was also seized by the military.

Ban said that the UN welcomed "the establishment of an office of missing persons and the process to reform the Sri Lankan constitution to achieve a political settlement."

The UN chief further stated that more can and should be done to address the legacy of the past and acknowledge the voices of the victims.

As part of his visit, Ban met top Sri Lankan top government officials to discuss the reconciliation process and congratulated them on efforts made since 2009.

Following meeting the UN chief, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena assured that the remaining privately owned lands in the North would be returned to their rightful owners within the next three months.

Ban also traveled to former war zones in the North where there was a demonstration in the city of Jaffna by Tamils who called for further UN involvement to help find those who have disappeared and to assist with the returning of land from the military.

A church leader who works with war victims and families of those who disappeared in northern Sri Lanka said they were disappointed by the UN chief's short visit.

Father Emmanuel Sebamalai, a priest from Mannar who represents the Association of the Families Searching for Disappeared Relatives, said that intimidation, abductions and even land grabbing still continues in the North but the UN chief failed to address these issues.

"Ban-ki Moon appreciated the rehabilitation programs and all the initiatives taken by the government but the victims totally disagree with his statement," said Father Sebamalai.

"People are not satisfied about the process at the present. He must have only seen the infrastructure development but underneath there are lot of problems," the priest said.

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Father Sebamalai said the government's reconciliation attempts had not been effective.

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