Sri Lankan Tamils Commemorate 15 Years Since the Civil War’s End

The minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka commemorated the end of the country’s civil war on Saturday with a moving ceremony that went on in spite of concerns that the government would try to stop it from happening.

It is unlawful for public gatherings to honor the Tamil Tiger separatist organization, which waged a bloody war to create a country for ethnic minorities, and police have shut down previous commemorations.

Events, according to Tamils, are being organized in remembrance of all those lost in the long-running conflict, which came to an end in 2009 with a military takeover of the last Tigers stronghold. The operation’s indiscriminate shelling of civilians drew widespread condemnation.

At the Mullivaikkal memorial site, a 41-year-old Tamil village official—who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for retaliation—told AFP, “Thousands died here the day before the war ended.” He said, “There were many injured individuals wailing for assistance. “I will be plagued by this for the rest of my life.”

For the ceremony of remembering, many thousand Tamils had traveled to the hamlet, where they lit oil lamps in memory of the deceased. Although participants in previous conflict zones on the island have been imprisoned and similar memorials have been interrupted by Sri Lankan authorities on many occasions, the service on Saturday proceeded without any problems.

Agnes Callamard, the worldwide head of Amnesty International, attended this year’s commemoration, making her the most senior foreign dignitary to have done so in the war-torn north of Sri Lanka.

The rights watchdog has been pressing Sri Lankan authorities for years to fully investigate and punish individuals guilty for abuses, despite their repeated refusals to allow an international inquiry into wartime crimes.

She told reporters afterwards, “We are appalled by the fact that after 15 years there is still no response to the demands of the people to know what happened” to individuals who were still classified as missing after the battle. We are here to serve as a reminder to the world community that there are individuals in Sri Lanka who are awaiting justice. Right now, impunity is the norm, and that has to change.

As the anniversary drew closer, Tamil locals living close to the celebration location told AFP that security personnel had been notably more visible in their neighborhoods. One Tamil resident, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for harassment, said on Thursday that “there is heavy surveillance of the people and it is intimidation.”

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the charismatic but secretive commander of the Tamil Tigers, was killed on Saturday, marking 15 years since the separatist group’s open insurgency against Sri Lankan government began in 1972.

According to UN estimates, his death in the hamlet of Mullivaikkal marked the end of a lightning-fast military onslaught that claimed the lives of at least 40,000 people in the last few months of warfare. The Sri Lankan military was charged of randomly bombarding civilian areas after directing people to relocate to areas designated as “no fire zones” so that their soldiers could advance.

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