Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils on Thursday lit lamps and displayed photos framed in flowers of relatives killed in a bloody civil war, marking the eighth anniversary of the end of the fighting.
A Sri Lankan court barred activists from holding a commemoration near a monument to Tamils killed in the fighting, but other memorials were carried out unhindered in many parts of the country’s north and east.
C.V. Wigneswaran, the chief minister of the Tamil-majority northern province lit a commemorative fire in Mullivaikkal beach where tens of thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the last days of the fighting.
It was here that the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels mounted their last stand against advancing government troops in May 2009.
Wigneswaran said a disproportionate number of soldiers are still stationed in the former war zone.
“Even after eight years since the war’s end and with no reports of any kind of political violence during this period, some 150,000 soldiers are kept in the northern province,” Wigneswaran said.
He accused the soldiers of taking over residents’ farmlands and homes and starting up businesses that have unfairly competed with Tamil-owned firms and cost people their jobs.
“In truth the army, navy and the air force have no business here,” Wigneswaran said.
The opposition leader of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, said that details of the war largely hidden from the world must be revealed.
The government evicted international aid workers and blocked independent media from the war zone when the war escalated, making it impossible to arrive at a clear death toll.
Ethnic Tamil civilians for five years after the war ended were denied the right to publicly remember those who died. People who defied the prohibition were arrested and harassed by the military and police.
However, the defeat of strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 election brought some freedoms. The new government has insisted that it will not allow dead Tamil Tiger rebels to be memorialized.
According to a United Nations report some 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the fighting in a war.
In Colombo, President Maithripala Sirisena will lay a wreath at a memorial for fallen soldiers on Friday to mark the end of the civil war.