05/25/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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War heroes week divides Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
Floods delay war heroes week, organized by the government to celebrate their defeat of the Tamil Tigers which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. According to Christian leaders, the people are still far from reconciliation and events like this contribute to widening the gap between Sinhalese and Tamil.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Postponed due to recent floods, the “War heroes week” (Ranaviru Sathiya), planned by the government to celebrate the defeat on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), which occurred May 19, 2009. The population is divided between those who considered the defeat of the rebels as a day of glory and happiness, or as a sad event, which cost thousands of lives and displaced more than 300 thousand and many see the bad weather as a sign from God. Between May 12 and 18, the celebrations would have involved the entire capital and culminated on May 20 with military parades and the inauguration of a memorial to the fallen in the former war zone of Elephant Pass in the district of Jaffna. Everything has been postponed to a later date, due to floods in recent days which have submerged entire villages in the districts of Gampaha, Kalutara and Colombo, with an official toll of at least 20 dead and more than 606 thousand displaced.

Nimalka Fernando, a woman human rights activist and lawyer, tells AsiaNews: "The day should be one which called all of us to search for truth and find ways and means for reconciliation. But we can not just ask people to reconcile without addressing the pain and agony including degradations and humiliations suffered by the Tamil people during the war time especially in the last two years". According to the woman mistakes made in the past must be recognised and a policy based on power sharing, equality and dignity built, which is still impossible with the government of Rajapksa that has created a sort of regime in the country.

Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, a priest and coordinator for the Archdiocese of Colombo of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and the Council for World Mission (Cwm), described the victory over Tamil rebels as a “defeat of terrorism ", but it has failed to eradicate the reasons that led to civil war in the country. "In the last year – he says - there has been no reconciliation between the two communities, there is no real healing process of wounds." The priest points out that many areas, once Tamil land, have been turned into military camps, while those visiting the Jaffna peninsula and other theatres of war are primarily there to celebrate the defeat of the rebels and not to give aid to the population. "The victory – he continues - should not be celebrated by one group. But if the defeat of the LTTE has brought good results, then why have the elections shown the total alienation of the Tamils from the majority? ". The priest says that for these reasons, the Week of War Heroes can not be considered a celebration.

Since January 2009, the beginning of major offensive launched by the army to defeat the LTTE, the Tamil refugees in the Northern provinces (83 thousand) have been living almost like prisoners and the government still regards them as potential rebels.  Added to these more than 300 thousand refugees who have been held in camps for almost two years without basic necessities, where there is one bathroom for every 1500 people.

25 years war between the army and LTTE has cost almost 700 thousand lives, mostly civilians, of which only 25 thousand in the last two years of the offensive. The government has always denied charges of crimes against humanity made by various world organizations for human rights.  

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