12/02/2019, 15.07
SRI LANKA
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Tamil ​​remember their civil war dead despite government opposition

by Melani Manel Perera

The government has banned Maaveerar Naal ceremonies, when Tamil remember those who died or went missing in battle. For the authorities, such remembrance is an apology for Tamil independence ideology. For Tamils, the dead were their children.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Tamil in northern and eastern Sri Lanka have commemorated their relatives who died during and after the country’s civil war, which lasted more than a quarter century.

The main ceremonies were held last Wednesday, Maaveerar Naal (Great Heroes' Day), as Tamils remembered those who died or went in missing in battle.

The Sri Lankan government has always opposed the remembrance. Under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of the current president, memorial ceremonies were banned as an apology for Tamil independence ideology.

For their part, Tamil complain that under the first Rajapaksa the graves of thousands of Tamils were destroyed, whilst war monuments, luxury buildings and other structures were built on top “in an attempt to erase our memory and control us".

"The graves of our children were in a row in the cemetery of Kopai,” some Tamil told AsiaNews. “At least 2,000 people were buried there, but in March 2011 soldiers arrived and demolished everything.”

In their place, the army “built the headquarters for its northern province command. Since then, we have no place to remember our children. We only have mother earth where to plant flowers and light candles for our loved ones.”

“For the world, they were members of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), but for the parents they are simply their children,” explained Fr Marimuttu Sathivel, an Anglican priest and Tamil activist in Colombo. “Now that they have gone, they cannot return to fight even if they are remembered by their relatives.”

"The Rajapaksa government thought that the Tamils ​​had died out with the end of the war. With this celebration the latter want to tell the world that they exist and that they are still in search of freedom in order to live peacefully, as human beings with dignity.”

A number of ceremonies took place in various parts of the country from 18 to 27 November. At Thandikulam Agricultural College, in the city of Vavuniya (central Sri Lanka), some students held a memorial for five fellow students massacred by soldiers on the campus on 18 November 2006.

"At that time, current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Secretary to the Defence Ministry,” the students said.

Another celebration took place at Jaffna University, despite a request by Vice Rector K. Kandasami to refrain from commemorations.

For his part, C. V. Vigneswaran, lawyer and leader of the Tamil People's Council, said that "Tamil have the right to peacefully celebrate Maaveerar Naal.”

"There is no need to ask for any approval to commemorate the dead. It is true that some dead were members of the Tamil Tigers, but we must not forget that they too were human beings.”

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