Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged a “political solution” for the island’s war-torn north, where ethnic minority Tamils have long demanded greater autonomy.
During a two-day visit to the Tamil heartland of Jaffna, Wickremesinghe also repeated his government’s promise of national reconciliation six years after the island’s ethnic war ended, his office said in a statement on Sunday.
“If you want a stable and secure country, we must have a political solution (with Tamils) and move forward,” Wickremesinghe said in an address in the Jaffna peninsula on Saturday and released by his office in the statement.
He did not give details of any proposed political agreement with Tamils, many of whom have for decades pressed for regional autonomy rather than full independence.
Tamil Tiger rebels, however, fought for outright separation but were crushed in a military offensive in May 2009 — ending 37 years of ethnic bloodshed which had claimed at least 100,000 lives.
“The war is over, but we do not have unity among ethnic communities,” Wickremesinghe said. “Tamils have shown their willingness to ensure reconciliation. We must have a political settlement and move forward, protecting peace and stability.”
In the January presidential election Maithripala Sirisena defeated long-time strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who enjoyed support among majority Sinhalese but failed to bring about reconciliation with Tamils.
Rajapakse had also refused to cooperate with a UN-mandated investigation into allegations that troops possibly killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while defeating the separatists.
Wickremesinghe said his government has won support from the UN Human Rights Council to establish a credible domestic inquiry into alleged war crimes.
The new government has already taken steps towards reconciliation since January, including by lifting travel restrictions to the north and beginning to return Tamil-owned land taken over by the military.
In a major sign of rapprochement, the country’s main minority political party, the Tamil National Alliance, attended last month’s national day celebrations hosted by Sirisena, for the first time in four decades.