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Sri Lanka frees 16 Indian fishermen as goodwill gesture

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

Colombo/New Delhi: As a goodwill gesture ahead of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India, Sri Lanka has decided to set free 16 Indian fishermen.

The fishermen were arrested after they allegedly intruded into Sri Lankan waters. Earlier, the fisherman’s associations of Tamil Nadu had urged the Sri Lankan government to release the 16 fishermen.

R_Wickremasinghe (1)
Ranil Wickremesinghe

It was decided to release the fishermen in order to ensure that the strong friendship between India and Sri Lanka is maintained, the Colombo Gazette reported on Sunday citing the statement received from the Sri Lanka Prime Minister’s Office.

Wickremesinghe’s office said the government also took note of the request made by the Indian fisherman’s associations.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India beginning Monday will be his first official overseas visit since being appointed as prime minister last month. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s office said that Wickremesinghe considers it important to visit India first.

The Sri Lankan government has also said that the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Sri Lanka and India will not be discussed during Wickremesinghe’s visit to India.

Wickremesinghe is to discuss domestic issues as well as regional security with the Indian leaders, the daily said, quoting the Prime Minister’s Office.

Wickremesinghe is to meet President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, among others, during his three-day visit.

Meanwhile, Minister of International Trade and Investment Malik Samarawickreme denied reports that the CEPA agreement will be discussed and signed during the visit.

The signing of the CEPA agreement has remained stalled over the years as both sides had failed to reach a consensus on several issues.

Samarawickreme said that before signing such an agreement there is need to look at Sri Lanka’s requirements today.

The minister said be it an agreement with India or any other country, the new Sri Lankan government will ensure it meets the interests of the Sri Lankan people, the Colombo Gazette reported.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Sri Lanka Commemorates 10 Years Since End of Civil War

Sri Lanka’s army chief Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake has said his troops will ensure that this year’s commemoration goes ahead peacefully

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civil war
Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine, April 21, 2019, after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Still reeling from the Easter terror attacks, Sri Lanka commemorates this weekend 10 years since the end of a bloody civil war that killed at least 100,000 people, the scars of which are still not healed.

Security was tight in the north of the island, home to Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, ahead of solemn ceremonies Saturday.

Sri Lanka’s government and top military brass were to have their own commemoration in Colombo Sunday.

On May 18, 2009, government forces brought their no-holds-barred military offensive to an end at a lagoon in the northern coastal district of Mullaittivu with the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the rebel Tamil Tigers.

civil war
FILE – People stand in front of a mural of Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran painted on a wall in Chennai, India, May 19, 2015. Across Chennai, large billboards with photographs of Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, urge its people to “not forget” the day the insurgent group accepted defeat. VOA

Thousands missing

Sri Lanka’s then-president Mahinda Rajapakse declared an end to the 37-year separatist conflict — marked by massacres, suicide bombings and assassinations — between Tamil militants and the central government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese.

But for thousands of war widows and other victims on both sides, this marked the start of a new struggle: to find out the fate of their loved ones.

About 20,000 people are still missing, including 5,000 government troops.

Anandarasan Nagakanni, 61, is still searching for her son Arindavadas.

“He was last seen with the Sri Lankan army, and after that we haven’t seen him,” she told AFP at a tiny makeshift office in Mullaittivu, where a notice board was covered with dozens of photos of missing people.

Nagaraja Sureshamma, 65, who lost one son and is still looking for the other, recalled the horrors of the final months and how civilians scrambled to escape indiscriminate attacks and shelling.

“We were all going together, but my son happened to go on a different route. … Ever since, we have not been able to find him,” Sureshamma said.

“If they are not alive, then they need to tell us that at least,” said Mariasuresh Easwari, an activist trying to help find the missing.

“Did you murder them? Did you bury them? Tell us.”

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FILE – A Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil woman supporting the Dead and Missing Person’s Parents Front holds a placard as police officers stand guard during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Aug. 30, 2013. VOA

Grieving banned

Sri Lankan forces have been accused of killing about 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the war, a charge successive governments have denied.

Several mass graves containing skeletal remains have been found in the past two decades, but only a handful of those buried have ever been formally identified.

Until recently, even remembering the war dead was considered subversive and annual memorial services by Tamils were trashed by government forces.

Government forces have set up memorials in the north for fallen security forces and bulldozed Tiger cemeteries, obliterating any sign of the rebels who at their zenith controlled a third of Sri Lanka.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a recent report that the new government’s promised political reforms and accountability for wartime atrocities have failed to materialize.

“For many Sri Lankans living in the bitterly contested north and east, the war has never quite ended,” it said.

civil war
Sri Lankan security officers inspect vandalized shops owned by Muslims in Minuwangoda, a suburb of Colombo, May 14, 2019. VOA

Islamist terror

Although the pain for many families remains, and many in the 2.5-million-strong Tamil community still feel disadvantaged, the end of the war did open a peaceful new chapter in which Sri Lanka’s economy and tourism boomed.

But this peace was shattered April 21 when Islamist suicide bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners.

The attackers were homegrown extremists — the Islamic State group also claimed credit — and riots since saw dozens of homes, businesses and mosques of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority vandalized. One man was killed by a mob wielding swords.

According to the ICG, the Easter attacks “compounded the general anxiety, tearing again at the social fabric, unleashing further violence and complicating the road to sustainable peace.”

Evoking memories of past dark times, a state of emergency has been in place since April 21 with the return of some wartime restrictions on free movement.

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Sri Lanka’s army chief Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake has said his troops will ensure that this year’s commemoration goes ahead peacefully.

“As much as we mourn the soldiers who were killed in the war, (minority Tamil) civilians also have a right to commemorate their war dead,” he said Thursday. (VOA)