COLOMBO: A Tamil-language version of Sri Lanka’s national anthem was performed at the country’s independence ceremony yesterday, lifting an unofficial ban in another step toward post-civil war ethnic reconciliation. Schoolchildren sang the anthem in Sinhalese, from the ethnic majority group, and the minority Tamil language at the ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of independence from Britain.
The move, despite opposition from Sinhalese nationalists, is an effort to reach out to Tamils after rebels from the ethnic minority fought a nearly 26-year war for a separate homeland until their crushing defeat in 2009. President Maithripala Sirisena says he will unite the nation, a process which has not been given prominence since independence. Sirisena’s hard-line predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was accused of further alienating the Tamil community by his post-war triumphalism.
He had imposed an unofficial ban on the Tamil version of the national anthem. In his speech yesterday, Sirisena said his political opponents were trying to create fear among the armed forces that fought the war that they will be penalized for rights abuses. He pledged to promote ethnic reconciliation while safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and respect of the military. —AP