Sri Lanka marks war anniversary with thousands still missing

Sri Lanka marks on May 18 and 19 a decade since the end of its 37-year Tamil separatist war that claimed at least 100,000 lives. (AFP)
Updated 18 May 2019

Sri Lanka marks war anniversary with thousands still missing

  • Security was tight in the north of the island, home to Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, ahead of solemn ceremonies on Saturday
  • About 20,000 people are still missing, including 5,000 government troops

MULLAITTIVU, Sri Lanka: Still reeling from the Easter terror attacks, Sri Lanka commemorates this weekend 10 years since the end of a bloody civil war that killed at least 100,000 people, from which the scars are still not healed.
Security was tight in the north of the island, home to Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, ahead of solemn ceremonies on Saturday.
Sri Lanka’s government and top military brass were due to hold their own commemoration in Colombo on Sunday.
On May 18, 2009 government forces brought their no-holds-barred military offensive to an end at a lagoon in the northern coastal district of Mullaittivu with the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the rebel Tamil Tigers.
Sri Lanka’s then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the 37-year separatist conflict — marked by massacres, suicide bombings and assassinations — between Tamil militants and the central government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese.
But for thousands of war widows and other victims on both sides, this marked the start of a new struggle: to find out the fate of their loved ones.
About 20,000 people are still missing, including 5,000 government troops.
Anandarasan Nagakanni, 61, is still searching for her son Arindavadas.
“He was last seen with the Sri Lankan army, and after that we haven’t seen him,” she told AFP at a tiny makeshift office in Mullaittivu, where a notice board was covered with dozens of photos of missing people.
Nagaraja Sureshamma, 65, who lost one son and is still looking for the other, recalled the horrors of the final months and how civilians scrambled to escape indiscriminate attacks and shelling.
“We were all going together, but my son happened to go on a different route... Ever since, we have not been able to find him,” Sureshamma said.
“If they are not alive, then they need to tell us that at least,” said Mariasuresh Easwari, an activist trying to help find the missing.
“Did you murder them? Did you bury them? Tell us.”

Sri Lankan forces have been accused of killing about 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the war, a charge successive governments have denied.
Several mass graves containing skeletal remains have been found in the past two decades, but only a handful of those buried have ever been formally identified.
Until recently, even remembering the war dead was considered subversive and annual memorial services by Tamils were trashed by government forces.
Government forces have set up memorials in the north for fallen security forces and bulldozed Tiger cemeteries, obliterating any sign of the rebels who at their zenith controlled a third of Sri Lanka.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a recent report that the new government’s promised political reforms and accountability for wartime atrocities have failed to materialize.
“For many Sri Lankans living in the bitterly contested north and east, the war has never quite ended,” it said.

Although the pain for many families remains, and many in the 2.5-million-strong Tamil community still feel disadvantaged, the end of the war did open a peaceful new chapter in which Sri Lanka’s economy and tourism boomed.
But this peace that was shattered on April 21 when Islamist suicide bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 258 people — including 45 foreigners.
The attackers were homegrown extremists — the Daesh group also claimed credit — and riots since saw dozens of homes, businesses and mosques of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority vandalized. One man was killed by a mob wielding swords.
According to the ICG, the Easter attacks “compounded the general anxiety, tearing again at the social fabric, unleashing further violence and complicating the road to sustainable peace.”
Evoking memories of past dark times, a state of emergency has been in place since April 21 with the return of some wartime restrictions on free movement.
Sri Lanka’s army chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake has said his troops will ensure that this year’s commemoration goes ahead peacefully.
“As much as we mourn the soldiers who were killed in the war, (minority Tamil) civilians also have a right to commemorate their war dead,” he said on Thursday.

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 3 min 52 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.