01/16/2023, 12.07
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Jaffna, Tamils demand Wickremesinghe release political prisoners

by Melani Manel Perera

The Sri Lankan president took part in Pongal, a traditional festival, assuring the implementation of the 13th Amendment devolving powers to the provinces. Activists organised an event in response to demand justice for the victims of the civil war.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - President Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday attended the National Thai Pongal Festival in the city of Jaffna and ensured the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the devolution of powers to the provinces.

Called Thai Pongal or simply Pongal, it is a harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India and by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The victims of the civil war launched a demonstration called 'Free Pongal' to demand the release of Tamil political prisoners from the government.

"The leaders of the northern and southern provincial councils have demanded the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. We are pursuing these activities. In the next two years, we will continue this work systematically,' Wickremesinghe said, adding that a special commission will be set up to build a country where all can live in harmony, while the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be accelerated. 

However, the relatives of the missing young people protested at the president's words: 'We cannot celebrate without our rights. We do not want to celebrate without our sons and husbands who have disappeared and without answers from the authorities,' some women said.

The Tamil population is also demanding access to land that the army confiscated during the civil conflict that devastated the country between 1983 and 2009. "Without our land to cultivate, what is the point of celebrating Pongal?" a Tamil mother from the Wanni area in the north of the country told AsiaNews.

Instead of Thai Pongal, some Tamil activists organised 'Free Pongal' at the University of Jaffa to demand the release of those who have been in prison (some for more than 15 years) and often without ever having received formal charges.

According to Kumanan, a Tamil youth activist contacted by AsiaNews, the event was organised by the 'voiceless of the voiceless' to call for 'an amnesty or a presidential pardon' for political prisoners on the occasion of the Tamil holiday of Pongal or Sri Lanka's Independence Day, which falls on 4 February.

Murugiah Komakan, the coordinator of the organisation, led the proceedings and former prisoners from the Kilinochchi and Jaffna areas also participated. Among those present was also Hindu priest Raghupathi Sharma, a Tamil political prisoner recently released by presidential pardon.

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