Sri Lanka pledges ‘political solution’ in war-torn north

Updated 29 March 2015

Sri Lanka pledges ‘political solution’ in war-torn north

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pleadged 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 Rajapaksa, who enjoyed support among majority Sinhalese but failed to bring about reconciliation with Tamils.
Rajapaksa 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 toward 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.


Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

An Afghan man mourns during the funeral of his brother after a bomb exploded at a wedding hall killing 63 people and injuring 200 others. (Reuters)
Updated 48 min 49 sec ago

Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

  • Bride’s relatives, members of music band among victims of Daesh attack

KABUL: Mirwais Elmi’s special night soon became a bloodbath after a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the hotel hall where his wedding ceremony was taking place, killing more than 63 people and injuring 200 others in Kabul on Sunday. Elmi and his bride, who were in separate areas of the venue, survived the blast. The explosion took place just before dinner was to be served to the nearly 1,000 guests who had gathered in the southwest of the city.
The local Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack Speaking to a private TV channel on Sunday, a shaken Elmi was unable to describe the carnage that took place.
“I am not a groom today, my family, my friends are all in grief,” Elmi, who is in his early 20s and works as a tailor, said.
He added that he never thought “such an incident would happen during my wedding party.”
As survivors buried victims of the attack, an infant’s milk bottle and an invitation card could be seen near one of the hotel’s walls, badly damaged by the blast.
The attack comes as the US and Taliban close in on a peace deal which would lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, nearly 18 years after the Taliban were ousted. The group immediately distanced themselves from the attack and strongly condemned it.
Elmi’s father-in-law lost 14 members of his family, while another man lost three of his sons, four nephews and five of his aunt’s grandchildren, according to survivor accounts.
“My family and my bride are in shock, they cannot speak. My bride keeps fainting. I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again,” he said. All five members of the wedding’s music band were killed. The groom and bride’s families, like many of those attending the ceremony, belonged to poor families.  
None of the guests were government officials sought by Daesh or other militant groups.

Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely.

Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, Lawmaker

Many of the victims were children and young men. The hotel had no guards and guests were not body searched, according to survivors.
Shi’ite cultural centers and an anti-government protest have all recently come under attack, but Sunday’s wedding blast was the first of its kind, evoking a reaction from President Ashraf Ghani. He blamed Daesh for the incident. “I strongly condemn the inhumane attack on the wedding hall in Kabul. My top priority for now is to reach out to the families of victims of this barbaric attack. On behalf of the nation, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who were martyred. “The Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide a platform for terrorists,” he tweeted.
Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, a lawmaker, said the attack exposed the government’s weakness.
“Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely,” he told Arab News.