04/15/2010, 00.00
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Entire country celebrates Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, but forgets the North’s refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
In the capital the traditional Buddhist New Year is transformed into a national holiday to mark peace after 30 years of war, but in the north more than 83 thousand people are still kept prisoner in camps.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - After 30 years of war Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils started their new year yesterday in a climate of peace. It is especially great celebration for the people and military of the northern and eastern regions, who experienced first hand the horrors of the war between the army and Tamil Tigers (LTTE) until May 2009. The celebrations involved the entire population of the country, also Christians and Muslims, but not the over 83 thousand refugees still confined in refugee camps in the north.

 "This is the first time after 10 years of military service that I have been able to go home for the New Year holiday - says Kamal Kumara Gankanda, a soldier of the Buddhist religion - we are all happy to celebrate the Sinhala (Buddhist new year) and Tamil New Year without the threat of LTTE attacks. "

The festival is also an opportunity to pray and many flocked to temples and Kovils (places of worship) in the capital, offering puja (prayers) for a lasting peace. "We pray to God - says Kavitha Selvam, an ethnic Tamil – not to allow anyone to destroy our country during the New Year." Mgr. Malcolm Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo took the opportunity to make his blessing to the entire country, assuring his prayers for the development and harmony of the whole population.

The festivities, however, do not touch the over 83 thousand displaced ethnic Tamil, confined in refugee camps in the North. Since January 2009, the beginning of major offensive launched by the army to defeat the LTTE, they have lived like prisoners and the government still regards them as potential rebels. According to the UN agency for refugees there is not even enough money in the state coffers to pay the 25 thousand rupees (160 euros) required for the maintenance of poor households.

Herman Kumara, Catholic leader and head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, said the euphoria of the celebrations is being amplified by the media and politicians. "I'm sure - he says - that we can not think of being a nation. Why not consider these people living in camps, under trees as our citizens? Why can they not also be considered the Sinhalese? ".  

Father S. M. Anthony, provincial of the Jesuits, said: "The Buddhists and Tamil New Year is a wonderful opportunity to begin a process of reconciliation between the two communities and is a challenge for the top levels of politics. How many of them have seriously taken this opportunity as a chance for reconciliation rather than just a show of words? ".

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