Colombo: Sri Lanka marked the eighth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil war on Friday with much of the legacy and divisions created by more than a quarter-century of violence still intact.
Families are still looking for their missing relatives, others demanding their land back from military occupation, fishermen asking for sea access blocked by the navy, widows heading families and handicapped persons struggling without jobs. Rehabilitated ex-rebels are shunned by a society that once glorified them.
Tamil lawmaker Abraham Sumanthiran said “a sense of uncertainty is hanging over the people."
Sumanthiran comes from the principle political party representing minority Tamils who bore the brunt of the civil war, which ended with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels at the hands of the Sinhalese-dominated government.
People hoped for better times with the election of President Maithripala Sirisena, who in 2015 overwhelmingly defeated strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“More than Mahinda Rajapaksa, the people are angry with the current government because the people did not expect him to do any good," said T. Paranthaman, who works with the war affected in the Tamil-majority north. “People are getting fed up. There is a lot of mistrust that the Sinhalese-dominated government is not going to give them anything."
Despite promises, the government has not provided answers on the fate of tens of thousands of people who went missing. Relatives say that they personally handed them over to the military in the last days of the fighting after it asked those with the least connection to the rebels to surrender.
No steps have been taken to establish a judicial mechanism to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations and war crimes against both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, despite undertakings given to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Dozens of persons arrested on suspicion of links to the rebels have been detained for years without being charged and the anti-terror law criticized as draconian and which the government promised to replace still stays.
Sirisena has also given mixed signals about his commitments, occasionally saying he wouldn’t prosecute soldiers who protected the country from Tamil rebels in fear of upsetting majority Sinhalese. The military has been accused of serious wartime rights violations including deliberate shelling of civilians and hospitals and blocking food and medicine to thousands of people trapped in the war zone.
According to a UN report, some 40,000 people are believed to have been killed in just the final months of the fighting.
The rebels are accused of recruiting child soldiers and exposing people to danger by holding them as human shield and killing those who tried to escape their control.
A Rajapaksa-led opposition has been gaining ground among majority ethnic Sinhalese with the slogan that the Sirisena government has been giving too many concessions to the Tamils, betraying the military’s hard-fought victories.
“Preoccupied with appearing patriotic and worried about dissent and Rajapaksa loyalists in uniform, the government has done little to reform the national security state or reduce the military’s considerable autonomy," the International Crisis Group think tank said in a statement.
It said that the sense of grievance generated by the continued heavy military presence and lack of progress on addressing the war legacy is strengthening the nationalist sentiments of many Tamils and increasing tensions with Sinhalese and Muslims.
The rights group warned that continued failure by the government to provide regional autonomy would lead to a growing restlessness and radicalization, which could be felt for decades.