Lankan prez calls on Tamils to work with government

KANDY: Sri Lanka’s president today called for minority ethnic Tamils to work with the government to settle their differences but said there would be no self-rule for them, as the country celebrated its first Independence Day since the end of a 25-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was re-elected last month by a wide margin, largely because of support from the country’s Sinhalese majority, said Tamil leaders should not “misguide” people or harbour political ambitions based on ethnicity or region.

“Let’s solve our problems ourselves through discussions,” he said in the Tamil language.

Sri Lanka received independence in 1948 - emerging from more than four centuries of colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch and then British - and ethnic Tamils have since complained of systematic marginalization in governance, jobs and education.

Those grievances led to the birth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group that fought for decades for an independent state for Tamils in the north and east. The war, which ended in May with the defeat of the rebels, left some 80,000 to 100,000 people dead and many Tamil areas in ruins.

There have since been calls for the government to reconcile with Tamils by offering them a degree of self-rule in provinces where they constitute a majority, but Rajapaksa rejected that today.

“Hereafter, we will not entertain narrow divisions based on race, religion, language and political ideology in terms of regions,” he said. “There is no one called a minority in this country, all those who love the country are children of mother Lanka.” He said he intends to give some power to all villages in the country to enable people to look after their own affairs.

“Certainly everyone will get equal facilities. This is what you call equality, this is what you call equal rights,” he said.

The main celebration for Sri Lanka’s 62nd independence anniversary was held in central Kandy town, near the sacred Temple of the Tooth. The town was also the seat of the country’s last kingdom before it fell to the British in 1815.

In contrast to previous years’ celebrations, today’s military parades were low-key - without the display of heavy guns and artillery - and the general public was allowed to attend. In the past, attendance required a special invitation by the government.