Sri Lanka floods provide chance for government, Tamil reconciliation
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has undertaken few reconciliation measures since defeating Tamil separatists. Current Sri Lanka floods provide a chance for him improve relations.
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The Sri Lankan military has been dispatched to help with rescue and relief operations. The Army says it has rescued more than 450 civilians as of Thursday and prevented the breach of several lake levies. Troops are also distributing food and building temporary shelters for displaced people, which now number more than 350,000.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Sri Lanka floods
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President Mahinda Rajapaksa told reporters Friday in Colombo the government is sparing no expense. “The relief operations are going ahead and I have told the officials to ensure that there are no delays in distributing aid.”
Rajapaksa spurred to talk about 'political solution'
According to Agence-France Presse, Mr. Rajapaksa also said he was ready “to share power at the center” with Tamils and was ready to improve on a partially implemented constitutional amendment to devolve more power to regions where many Tamils live.
“The fact that he is talking about a political solution based on constitutional reform and power sharing is good,” says Jehan Perera, the executive director of the National Peace Council, a nongovernmental organization in Colombo. “Since the end of the war, he stopped talking about it entirely because he came up with the theory that economic development by itself would suffice and end all ethnic grievances.”
But, he says, it remains to be seen what changes will actually materialize. Mr. Perera initially felt little optimism in Rajapaksa’s first response to the floods, which was a trip to visit some Sinhalese farmers in the north, ignoring the Tamil areas in the east.
The president’s announcement Friday may be prompted by a feeling of isolation from international groups as the flooding becomes a major disaster, Perera speculates. He adds the statements may also have to do with upcoming local elections and pressure over war crimes tribunals from Western governments.
Divisions between the government and the Tamil separatists in the wake of the tsunami contributed to the dismantling of a ceasefire agreement, says Professor Hyndman, a researcher whose forthcoming book, “Dual Disasters,” looks at how tsunami relief impacted conflicts in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
This time, there’s another chance for peace-building, she says. “My hope is they will go in and build some precarious ground for trust.”
(Editor's note: The original headline was amended after publication.)