Sri Lanka: Tamils commemorate genocide amid new land grabs

Chief minister of the Northern Provincial Council, CV Wigneswaran, addressing a commemorative event at Mullivaikkal, May 18. Photo: Tamil Guardian.

Tamils throughout the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka held ceremonies on May 18 to remember those who died in the genocidal war waged by the Sri Lankan Army against the Tamil people.

May 18, 2009, was the final day of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an armed group that fought for nearly three decades for an independent Tamil homeland.

During the final months of the war, hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians fled the advancing Sri Lankan Army. They were herded into an ever smaller area on the north-east coast of the island, and subject to bombardment from land, sea and air.

The death toll is unknown. A common estimate is 40,000 killed during 2009, but the Catholic Church has pointed out that 140,000 people are unaccounted for in official population statistics.

In previous years, the Sri Lankan government has tried to stop commemorations of the massacre. This year, such events were permitted, but in many cases military intelligence agents intimidated people by filming all the participants.

The chief minister of the Northern Provincial Council, CV Wigneswaran, addressed a commemorative event at Mullivaikkal, the site of the final massacre. He spoke of the need for war crimes trials. He denounced the pressure placed on Tamils by the “international community” to abandon this demand for the sake of “reconciliation”. He said Tamils are being asked to “trade justice for reconciliation”.

He said that fair-minded leaders of the Sinhalese (the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka) should understand the importance of accountability for past crimes, and should therefore support the demand for justice.

This year, some Sinhalese and Muslim students joined Tamil students in the commemoration at Jaffna University. In past years when the commemoration was banned, only Tamils took part.

Members of the Tamil diaspora around the world held commemorative events. One unexpected event occurred in Ecuador, a country which, according to the Tamilnet website, has no Tamil residents. This event was organised by the Fundacion Pueblo Indio del Ecuador, an indigenous people's centre, as an expression of solidarity with the Tamil people.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan armed forces continue to confiscate Tamil land. Tamil villagers have repeatedly blocked Survey Department officials from entering land in the Poonakari area, which the military wants to take over in order to expand its bases.

There are 30,000 soldiers already stationed in this area, which is inhabited by 6000 Tamil families.

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