Sri Lankan troops break up Tamil memorials for civil war dead

COLOMBO • Armed troops broke up Tamil memorials for Sri Lanka's civil war dead and beat up journalists covering one ceremony in a former battle zone, residents and media organisations said yesterday.

Grieving relatives were forced out of cemeteries at the weekend as they attempted to light lamps at graves of loved ones who died in the island's decades-long conflict, which ended in 2009.

The Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions said Tamil journalists at an event in Mullaitivu, a north-eastern fishing town where the war's final battle was fought, were assaulted by troops.

"Soldiers used a palm stick wrapped with barbed wire to assault a photojournalist covering the events," the media outfit said.

It added that reporters in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where the island's minority Tamil community is concentrated, have been subject to "constant harassment" by the security authorities.

Police said they were investigating a complaint of assault.

Sri Lanka's 37-year civil war began in 1972 when the Tamil Tigers waged a bloody campaign against government troops for a separate ethnic homeland.

The date Nov 27 has, from the late 1980s, been marked "Heroes' Day" by the Tigers to honour members of the militant group who died in the conflict.

But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government has banned Tamil commemorations of the war dead since taking office in 2019. Mr Rajapaksa was defence chief when the Tigers were defeated in 2009 while his brother Mahinda was president, winning them adoration from much of the majority Sinhalese population.

The separatist war is said to have led to more than 100,000 deaths.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2021, with the headline Sri Lankan troops break up Tamil memorials for civil war dead. Subscribe