Sri Lanka Leader Calls for Reforms to Promote Ethnic Harmony

By Associated Press, Bharatha Mallawarachi 2 September 2015

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s president asked the country’s newly elected lawmakers on Tuesday to draft political reforms to promote ethnic reconciliation and economic development in the post-war era.

President Maithripala Sirisena said the new parliament’s responsibilities are to make the political decisions that had been delayed and to draft reforms. He has previously acknowledged that Sri Lanka has failed to heal its deep ethnic divide since the civil war ended six years ago.

The speech was Sirisena’s inaugural address to the 225-member parliament at its first meeting since the election on Aug. 17.

The island’s two main political parties have agreed to form a government of consensus with view to address national reconciliation and overcoming economic hardships borne from the conflict.

Sirisena said he would give his leadership and support to the lawmakers to build ethnic and religious harmony.

His speech came nearly a week after the United States, in a major shift of their policy, said that it wants to sponsor a resolution at next month’s UN human rights session that is supportive of Sri Lanka’s intent to conduct its own investigation into alleged war crimes.

Relations between the US and Sri Lanka were strained under previous President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who oversaw a military campaign that defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and ended a decades-long civil war.

Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations amounting to war crimes, and an earlier UN report said some 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in just the last few months of the fighting, largely as a result of the government’s shelling.

US-Sri Lanka bilateral relations have improved since Sirisena broke away from Rajapaksa’s government and won the Jan. 8 presidential election, defeating Rajapaksa with support from the opposition political parties.

To promote national reconciliation, Sirisena has started releasing private lands occupied by the military during the civil war in the northern region where civil raged.