Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who make up 8% of the country’s 20 million people, will pose a threat if the government ignores their aspirations in any political settlement with Tamils, the International Crisis Group said.
“In the absence of serious attention to Muslim concerns, the growing frustration among young people poses a potential threat,” Robert Templer, the group’s Asia programme director, said in a report. “Only a settlement in which all communities’ concerns are addressed can lead to a lasting peace.” One-third of Muslims live in the north and east of Sri Lanka where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels are fighting for a separate homeland. Muslims have been victims of massacres, ethnic cleansing and forced displacements since 1990, the Brussels-based group said.
Sri Lanka’s peace process collapsed last year as fighting erupted between the army and the LTTE. The Tamil Tigers said last week that the latest proposals by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese leaders for a political settlement leave Tamils subservient and are the same as those rejected 30 years ago.
“The Muslims are the forgotten party in the Sri Lankan conflict,” the Crisis Group said. “The government needs to address the Muslim issue more directly, as part of a comprehensive political proposal that offers real devolution, if there is to be a political settlement.”
The Muslim community is concerned that the government has failed to demonstrate any willingness to devolve power to local communities in the eastern region, said the group.
Muslims have largely refrained from resorting to violence, it added. “Some frustrated youth are showing increasing interest in more radical versions of Islam,” the group said.
Sri Lanka is pursuing political negotiations and changing the Constitution to address the concerns of all communities, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 19 May told a meeting of the Group 11 in Jordan.
The 2002 ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, was a disappointment to the Muslims, the Crisis Group said in its report.