Colombo, April 27 (newsin.asia) Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province observed a total hartal on Thursday in protest against the government’s inaction as regards the tracing of thousands of persons who went missing in the 30-war between government forces and Tamil militant outfits.
The hartal, called by the Tamil Peoples’ Council led by the Chief Minister of the province C.V.Wigneswaran, and supported at the last minutes by the Tamil National Alliance and the Northern Provincial Council, saw all shops closed and all public services except electricity and water supply, suspended for the day.
In the Eastern Province, where the Tamils are about 33%, the shut down was partial.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Chief Minister Wigneswaran said that the hartal had to be resorted to because the government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had been indifferent to the 50-day old agitation by Tamil families whose members had gone missing and whose lands had been sized by the Sri Lankan military. He warned that the agitation could take serious proportions if the government continues to be uncaring and that would not be good for the government itself.
According to statistics given by the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the number of missing since 1994 is 65,000 in the entire island. But according to the Maxwell Paranagama commission on enforced disappearances, it had received 19,000 complaints including 5,200 from the armed forces and the police. The International Commission of the Red Cross said that it has received 16,000 tracing requests including 5,200 from the armed forces and the police. Tamil leaders who are fighting for the missing persons’ families say that they represent 39,000 families some of whose members have disappeared.
The Sri Lankan parliament passed the Office of Missing Persons OMP) Act in August 2016, but President Sirisena is yet to sign it. According to political observers, the President is hesitant to sign it because the material collected by the OMP could be used as evidence against armed forces personnel in case a war crimes tribunal is set up under international supervision.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that some of the missing persons might be resident abroad. Former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government had asked foreign government to give information on the whereabouts of persons who had been reported as “missing” but these government had not responded.
As regards the return of lands seized from the Tamils by the military there is confusion. While the Minister for Rehabilitation,D.M.Swaminathan, says that the military has 70,000 acres, the British Tamil Forum gave district wise statistics to show that out of the 69,992 occupied in the Northern Province, only 2567 acres had been handed back in 2016.
The officers heading the army in the Northern Province say that they are ready to give back lands they do not really need if the President (who is Commander in Chief and Defense Minister) asks them to. But the order has not come yet.
Although on the ground the April 27 Hartal was highly successful, it could not convince the European Parliament that it should reject Sri Lanka’s bid to re-gain General System of Preferences Plus trade concessions from the European Union. In a vote taken on a motion to deny GSP Plus to Sri Lanka on Thursday, 436 voted in favor of giving it to Sri Lanka and only 119 against. There were 22 abstentions. The Sirisena Wickremesinghe government still has the support of the EU, which is Sri Lanka’s major trading partner apart from the US.
(The featured picture at the top is that of a street in a North Sri Lankan town on strike day)