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Sri Lanka civil war: Reconciliation efforts slammed on anniversary of seven-year conflict
Agence France Presse - May 18, 2016
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group's (ICG) report came as Colombo abandoned a controversial military "victory" parade for a more sombre remembrance ceremony that was expected to include ethnic minority Tamils.
Government forces killed the Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on May 18, 2009 after a brutal military crackdown, and declared an end to the 37-year conflict which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
President Maithripala Sirisena took power in January 2015 promising reconciliation, to reduce the military's involvement in public life, and pledging that those guilty of war crimes would be held accountable.
But 16 months later many promises remain unfulfilled, the ICG said in its report, "Sri Lanka: Jumpstarting the reform process", with military involvement still visible in parts of the country.
"The enormity of the crimes, especially in the final weeks of the war, makes them impossible to ignore but hard for the military and most (majority) Sinhalese to acknowledge or accept responsibility for," the ICG said.
The ICG called on Colombo to set a timeline for training judges, lawyers and investigators for special war crimes courts and for passing legislation to establish responsibility for war crimes.
It said the Government must end military involvement in running hotels and shops and vacate occupied private land in former war zones.
Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said that this year's commemorations – a restrained ceremony and a cultural show, "Footsteps of Reconciliation" – demonstrated the Government's commitment to healing ethnic wounds.
Previous parades celebrated the victory of the largely Sinhalese military over the minority Tamils, who were banned from remembering their dead as commemoration of fallen rebels was thought anti-state.
"We are having a cultural show instead of the military victory parade that was practised in the past six years," Mr Hettiarachchi said. "This is to establish reconciliation among all races."
Atrocities continued after war's end: UN report
Mr Sirisena's tenure so far has adopted a far more conciliatory tone than that of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse. The Government has agreed to a UN call to set up a special court to investigate wartime atrocities, but has rejected requests for the involvement of foreign judges.
It has secured international support for ethnic peace, while high-profile visits by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Secretary of State John Kerry last year effectively ended Sri Lanka's pariah status.
The independent Sri Lanka Campaign, a rights group, noted that there had been an "undeniable" improvement in the country since the change in government, but more needed to be done. In war-affected regions "a combination of ongoing militarisation and impunity mean that a climate of intimidation and fear persists," it said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought for independence for Sri Lanka's main ethnic minority and were known for their trademark suicide bombings. At the height of their power, the rebels ran a de facto separate state comprising a third of the Indian Ocean island's territory.
Under Mr Rajapakse's orders, the army defeated the Tigers in a no-holds-barred military campaign that attracted international censure.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, said recently that atrocities continued after the end of the conflict. On a visit to Sri Lanka earlier this month he cited "credible evidence" of forced disappearances of Tamils and detainees being sexually tortured since 2009.