Sri Lanka president discredit Tamil protestors as ‘Eelamists’

Tamils protesting denied justice for nine years since the war, have been condemned by the Sri Lankan head of state as ‘Eelamists’ with business interests aiming to divide the island nation.

In Sri Lanka’s north, Tamils are continuing with protests for more than a year demanding the release of political prisoners, release of military occupied land and whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones.

Hundreds of diaspora Tamils in London demonstrated against President Maitripala Sirisena when he was attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) a week ago.

In an interview with the BBC in London, President Sirisena slammed the protestors as ‘Eelamists’ and singled out those in the north as “running a business”.

The demand by protesters in London to release military held land in the Tamil majority north was scorned by the Sri Lanka leader as “a joke”.

Describing the recent return of hundreds of acres to their legitimate owners as a ‘gift’, he claimed that 80% of land forcibly occupied by the security forces have been given back.

A week ago, when Tamils returned to their land in Valikamam north after 28 years only to discover that their property was destroyed, and access routes blocked by barbed wire with three military camps occupying the land.

Frustrated after a year of continuous protest without positive response from the government, another group of displaced Tamils regained access to Iranaitheevu island last week defying threats from the occupying Navy,

UNHRC concern

Addressing the UN human rights council in Geneva a month ago High Commissioner Zeid Raad al Hussein highlighted Tamils protesting the slow progress of releasing occupied land.

"In the face of rising frustration among victims, a number of confidence building measures must be accelerated,” he said.

“These include the release of land occupied by the military, which remains slow.”

However, President Sirisena rejected any talks with protesting victims who he described as people motivated by business interests who are “discussing Eelam”.

“They want to show the UNHRC, the UN and other states that their problem is not solved. Their issue is dividing the country. I will have no dialogue with such Eelamists.”

Disappeared “no more”

In March, President Sirisena appointed officials for the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) to determine the fate of tens of thousands of disappeared.

Many are those who handed themselves over to the military at the end of armed hostilities between the government and Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

However, the president told BBC that the disappeared are “no more”.

Devastated by the president’s bold declaration a mother from the north in search of her daughter for years rejected his claim.

“He has no right to say that our children handed over to the military are no more,” an emotional Kasipillay Jeyavanitha told journalists in Vavunia.

Her daughters photograph, who still remain disappeared, had been published in a handout printed in 2015 for Sirisena’s presidential election campaign.

“We are waiting for them to return home alive. If they are not among the living, he should have revealed it before and told us what happened to them.”

No political prisoners

President Sirisena further claimed that no political prisoners are held in Sri Lanka.

However, a Tamil lawmaker says that the president has acknowledged the need to release political prisoners before his interview with the BBC.

“Although he did not refer to them as political prisoners, two weeks ago over the phone, the president said that he wants to release everybody held under the prevention of terrorism act,” MA Sumanthiran told journalists in Jaffna on Tuesday the 26th.

Quoting the Colombo based Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) the latest US State Department report on Sri Lanka says that the number of political prisoners in Sri Lanka is over 130.

No progress

The UN is sceptical of Sri Lanka honouring its commitments on delivering justice to Tamil victims.

“Slow progress was noted in establishing transitional justice mechanisms and it was doubtful that the transitional justice agenda would be implemented before the Council’s next report in March 2019,” Deputy High Commissioner Kate Gilmore told the UNHRC in March.

“The commissioners of the Office of Missing Persons were appointed 20 months after the adoption of the legislation and there was insufficient progress in returning land occupied by the military and no demonstrated willingness to address impunity,” she added.