12/21/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Young Sinhalese and Tamils together for peace, against prejudices

by Melani Manel Perera
The National Fisheries Solidarity association organised a three-day meeting in mid-December with young people from northern and southern Sri Lanka, because whilst the war might be over, the country’s contradictions are not. For one participant, there are still too many mental and physical barriers that young people must remove to build true freedom.”

Negombo (AsiaNews) – Y-MESOC, the youth movement of the National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO) association, organised a three-day outreach meeting in Negombo. The central theme of the vent was how to build a future of peace and promote reconciliation between young Sinhalese and Tamil in Sri Lanka.

Altogether some 110 young people (pictured) from Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Puttalam, Ampara and other cities of Sri Lanka, both north and south, took part in the initiative that was held between 11 and 13 December. In the course of the discussions, people shared their stories, focusing on the hardest problem of all: interethnic conflict and its roots.

This is indeed the crux of the matter. As Y-MESOC national coordinator Pradeep Laksiri put it, even though the “war may now be over, the [country’s] contradictions are not.” Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained, “We still must build ties of friendship between young people in the north-east and the south.”

For S. Iruthayarajcroos, a 27-year-old Tamil from Silawathurai (Mannar District), “We have never had this kind of experience. We are used to look at the Sinhalese with suspicion, but this kind of initiative gives us a chance to understand that there are no obstacles between people.”

Avinthaka de Silva, a Sinhalese from Southern Galle, agrees. “We had a very negative picture of the Tamils, but the three-day meeting changed that and now I dare say that together, young Sinhalese and Tamil, can build a better future.”

For Laksiri, almost 30 years of war have led to “misunderstandings” and “prejudices” that are hard to erase. Yet Y-MESOC has already started this process by establishing this youth exchange programme in Negombo, which can bear fruit.

What was done on 11-13 December was the second meeting involving young Sinhalese and Tamil. Back in March, a group of youth from the south visited their peers in the north.

“We know the country needs to develop, but at the same time, we need our complete freedom if we want to continue to speak about peace,” said Sahayanathan Fernando, a Tamil from Arripputhurai (Mannar District). “There are still too many checkpoints [on the roads] as well as mental and physical barriers that we young people want to remove to build true freedom.”

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