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Presidential task force for reconciliation in Sri Lanka

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Colombo: Sri Lanka’s new government has decided to appoint a special presidential task force to identify issues related to reconciliation with the minority Tamil community and suggest measures to bring about ethnic harmony in the country.

Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation (PTFR) would identify urgent reconciliation needs that require immediate solutions. Senaratne said the PTFR would also consider proposals from citizens for the purpose.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who dethroned Mahinda Rajapaksa in a bitter presidential poll on January 9, in his Independence Day speech on Wednesday lamented the lack of progress in achieving ethnic reconciliation.

Sirisena, 63, was critical of his predecessors for their failure to unite the “hearts and minds” of communities since the end of nearly three-decade conflict with the LTTE in 2009. His speech was in stark contrast to Rajapaksa’s, who has typically celebrated the military victory over Tamil Tigers.

The LTTE, based in north and east of Sri Lanka, were fighting for an independent state for the country’s 12 per cent minority Tamils.

This year’s Independence Day was marked by the presence of mainstream Tamil leaders who attended the celebrations for the first time since 1972 when Colombo promulgated its republican constitution, replacing the British monarchy.

Senaratne also said the new government was considering the release of political detainees.

The police chief has given the government a list of 275 Tamil prisoners. Senaratne said some of them look eligible for release.

The previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was under international pressure to achieve reconciliation with Tamils and Muslims, who constitute 7 per cent of the population.

President Rajapaksa, though, took steps towards reconciliation. He, however, failed to achieve anything meaningfully conclusive.

Rajapaksa was accused of depending too much on the Sinhala majority for his political survival and going slow on national reconciliation, thus, distancing the minorities.

The Tamil and Muslim minorities votes overwhelmingly for Sirisena in the presidential poll, while Rajapaksa also lost considerable support among the Sinhalese.

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