UN warns Sri Lanka not loose momentum on reforms

ECONOMYNEXT – A UN rights expert Thursday asked Sri Lanka not to take the foot off the pedal in its ethnic reconciliation efforts as the uneasy unity government grappled with a new political crisis.

Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, said the government of President Maithripala Sirisena came to power raising hopes of reconciliation and not to loose the momentum.

"In order not to lose the momentum gained by the new administration in 2015, the government must put in place some urgent, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect Sri Lanka’s minorities," she said.

Addressing reporters after a 10-day visit to Sri Lanka, she said the government should return military occupied and disengage troops from civilian activities, a key demand of the ethnic minority Tamils.

She also asked Colombo to either indict or free a large number of Tamil detainees held in custody for long periods without being charged. She urged Colombo to demonstrate its commitment to reforms.

"This includes… taking visible steps to gradually transfer military powers to civilian authorities," she said.

Despite the end of the separatist war in May 2009, government forces still maintain a large presence in the former conflict zones and keep a close watch on the local Tamil population.

The dominated military also runs hotels, transport services and other enterprises in competition with local Tamil businesses.

The security forces also run farms on land taken from Tamil civilians and sell the produce back to the local Tamil population, a practice that has become a contentious issue.

She said some 6,000 acres of private land still occupied by the military in the northern province should be returned to owners at the earliest.

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During a visit to Sri Lanka by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month, President Maithripala Sirisena Sunday pleaded for more time to bring about ethnic reconciliation.

However, political sources have expressed fears that any reforms to bring about unity between the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese could now be put on the backburner because of on-going political crisis in the unity government.

President Sirisena’s outburst last week against the country’s main anti-corruption agencies has already led to the resignation of the director general of the bribery commission, an appointee of the Prime Minister. (COLOMBO, October 20, 2016)

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