Has the Sri Lankan crisis triggered a change in ethnic relations? – The Diplomat

A Christian nun sings hymns as activists observe a minute’s silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war, at the ongoing anti-government protest site in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena

Sri Lankan protesters lit flames and offered prayers on Wednesday in remembrance of thousands of people – including ethnic Tamil civilians – killed in the final stages of the country’s decades-long civil war, during the first ever event where most Sinhalese of majority ethnicity openly commemorated the minority group.

Protesters gathered outside the president’s office, floated flowers in the nearby sea and prayed for all those who died during the 26-year civil war, including Tamil civilians, Tamil rebels and soldiers from the government.

While major state events have been held almost every year since the end of the war in 2009 to remember and celebrate soldiers, this is the first time that an event that also remembers Tamils ​​has been organized primarily by Sinhalese in the country’s capital, Colombo.

“I am Sinhalese by birth. Today we organized a memorial for all those who were killed 13 years ago, Sinhalese, Muslims, Hindus and everyone as a result of state terrorism and terrorism by non-state groups,” said Sumeera Gunasekara, a social media activist who participated in the event.

“There are still those who mourn because of these events and as a Sinhalese I have the right to share their grief, because I believe in the religion of humanity more than any other.”

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Actress Kaushalya Fernando said she came to remember the victims of a war created and mismanaged by politicians.

“The importance of this place is that we are not here as different ethnic groups, but as Sri Lankans.”

Protesters also shared rice porridge, the only food people could have in the final stages of the fighting due to the heavy blockade of supplies.

The Tamil Tiger rebels fought to create an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindus.

The civil war killed 100,000 people according to conservative United Nations estimates. The actual number is believed to be much higher. According to a report by a UN panel of experts, at least 40,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the last few months of fighting alone.

Since Sri Lankan troops defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers in 2009, Sri Lankan authorities have largely banned Tamils ​​from publicly remembering their family members and have denied claims that Tamil civilians have been killed.

The Sinhalese, mostly Buddhists, make up nearly 75% of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. Tamils, mostly Hindus, make up 15%.

Sri Lankans have been protesting for more than a month to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, blaming him for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a key role as a top defense strategist to his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is credited with leading a military campaign to defeat the rebels.

Both leaders were hailed as heroes by the Sinhalese, but allegations of mismanagement of the economy and corruption led to their disgrace.

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Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister last week amid violent protests and Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been staying at his fortified residence for more than a month. He was forced to step back, having appointed a new prime minister to manage the economy.

Sri Lanka, on the verge of bankruptcy, has announced that it is suspending up to $7 billion in foreign loan repayments due to be repaid this year due to a currency crisis. The country must repay $25 billion in foreign debt by 2026 out of a total of $51 billion.

The crisis has led to limited imports without gasoline at service stations. Other fuels, cooking gas, medicine and food are in short supply, forcing people to line up to buy the limited supplies.

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