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Sri Lanka marks eight years since end of civil war

Sri Lankan attendees react as they read through names of fallen soldiers on a memorial for those who died in the decades-long conflict against the Tamil Tigers, during a commemorative ceremony in Colombo on Thursday, marking the eight anniversary of the end of the islands Tamil separatist war. (AFP)
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is marking the eighth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil war 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 are struggling without jobs.
Tamil lawmaker Abraham Sumanthiran says “a sense of uncertainty is hanging over the people.”
Sumanthiran comes from the principle political party representing minority Tamils. Ethnic Tamils on Thursday lit lamps and displayed photos framed in flowers of relatives killed in the war.
A Sri Lankan court barred activists from holding a commemoration near a monument to Tamils killed in the fighting, but other memorials were carried out unhindered in many parts of the country’s north and east.
C.V. Wigneswaran, chief minister of the Tamil-majority northern province, lit a commemorative fire in Mullivaikkal beach where tens of thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the last days of the fighting.
It was here that the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels mounted their last stand against advancing government troops in May 2009.
Wigneswaran said a disproportionate number of soldiers are still stationed in the former war zone.
“Even after eight years since the war’s end and with no reports of any kind of political violence during this period, some 150,000 soldiers are kept in the northern province,” Wigneswaran said.
He accused the soldiers of taking over residents’ farmlands and homes and starting up businesses that have unfairly competed with Tamil-owned firms and cost people their jobs.
“In truth the army, navy and the air force have no business here,” Wigneswaran said.
The opposition leader of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, said that details of the war largely hidden from the world must be revealed.
The government evicted international aid workers and blocked independent media from the war zone when the war escalated, making it impossible to arrive at a clear death toll.
Ethnic Tamil civilians for five years after the war ended were denied the right to publicly remember those who died. People who defied the prohibition were arrested and harassed by the military and police.
However, the defeat of strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 election brought some freedoms. The new government has insisted that it will not allow dead Tamil Tiger rebels to be memorialized.
According to a UN report, some 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the fighting in a war.
In Colombo, President Maithripala Sirisena was planning to lay a wreath at a memorial for fallen soldiers to mark the end of the civil war.