Lanka ruling party promises justice for war victims

COLOMBO, July 23

Sri Lanka’s ruling party on Thursday pledged justice for thousands of victims of the island’s separatist war as it released its manifesto ahead of next month’s general election.

The United National Party (UNP) promised to work with the UN to ensure accountability for war crimes committed during the conflict that ended in 2009, a longstanding demand of ethnic minority Tamils.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged support for his party to strengthen gains made in the January presidential elections when Maithripala Sirisena ousted longtime strongman Mahinda Rajapakse.

“The voters have a clear choice,” Wickremesinghe said as he presented copies of the manifesto to influential Buddhist monks at a ceremony in Colombo.

“Either vote for my party to prevent the division of the country (on ethnic lines) and end corruption or vote for Rajapakse and his alliance.”

Wickremesinghe is the prime ministerial candidate from the UNP which backed Sirisena at the bitterly fought January poll.

The August 17 election comes after the coalition cobbled together by Wickremesinghe and Sirisena struggled to pass promised reforms in the parliament, where it lacks a majority.

Rajapakse will stand as a candidate for his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in August despite losing the presidential poll on corruption and nepotism allegations as well as a failure to address reconciliation issues for Tamils.

An ethnic Sinhalese, Rajapakse remains popular among big sections of the island’s largest community.

Ethnic Tamils, who constitute about 15 per cent of the 20 million population, could emerge king makers in August if the Sinhalese community is split down the middle.

The UN’s Human Rights Council is due in September to release its findings into allegations of war crimes, including that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan forces in the conflict’s final phase.