May commemorations and Sri Lanka’s great divide

Thursday, 16 May 2024 01:49 –      – 9

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Fifteen years after the military defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lankans remain deeply divided on how they remember those killed during fighting between Government troops and the LTTE cadres, particularly during the last stage of the war in 2009. The bitter truth is that there is no easy answer to this quandary with hardliners in the Sinhala and Tamil communities determined not to take a step back to accommodate and understand each other’s position on this issue.For most of the people, the defeat of the LTTE and the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran was a huge sigh of relief bringing an end to 30 years of terrorism, which plagued the country and took the lives of countless innocents.

That said, no one can pretend that, during the last stage of the war in particular, a large number of civilians were killed and maimed while hundreds of others are unaccounted for till today. There are also well documented cases of extrajudicial killings of detained LTTE cadres by members of the security force which have gone uninvestigated till now.

Since the war ended, there has been little political will to address these issues given that influential sections among the Sinhalese are opposed to any investigations into cases of alleged war crimes. Successive Governments have been bantering with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over how to address the concerns raised by the international community so that there could be closure for the families of the victims as well as redemption for members of the Sri Lankan armed forces who have had to collectively pay a high price for the excess of a few among them.

Where Sri Lanka politicians are concerned, there is a great deal of duplicity in how they address related issues.

There was a lot of hue and cry in Parliament on Tuesday over the continued Israeli military action in Gaza and the massive civilian death toll it is taking but many of these same politicians are less eager to talk of civilian deaths at the hands of the Lankan forces that took place during the war.

For years the separatist war was a political football which was passed around by politicians to win elections and after the end of the war too, it remains so. Already the visit of the General Secretary of the human rights organisation Amnesty International Agnès Callamard, who is scheduled to visit Mullaitivu to join war-affected Tamils in their commemoration, has kicked up a storm with some politicians and groups expressing anger at her visit to the North saying AI is ignoring the atrocities committed by the LTTE. The issue is likely to snowball into a political issue as has been the case with the May commemorations each year since 2009.

The Government’s annual victory day celebrations will take place later this week where family members of the armed forces personnel who died during the war will be remembered while injured soldiers too will be part of the Remembrance Day. It will be an emotional day for many thousands of such families who have lost their loved ones, in the prime of their lives.

On the other side of the divide too, it will be a day to remember loved ones killed during a cruel war, but for them, the scenario is very different. They will have little freedom to remember their dead without many hurdles placed in their path by Government authorities.

It is only on the day that Lankans of all communities can stand together and remember their loved ones with the same dignity that the divide between them can be bridged. Till then the North/South divide on this issue will