Sri Lanka removes ban on national anthem in Tamil language

Schoolchildren sing Sri Lanka's national anthem in Tamil language at country's independence ceremony marking end of unofficial ban on practice

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Members from Sri Lankan military march wth national flags during Sri Lanka's 68th Independence day celebrations in Colombo, February 4, 2016

A Tamil-language version of Sri Lanka's national anthem was performed at the country's independence ceremony on Thursday, lifting an unofficial ban in another step toward post-civil war ethnic reconciliation.

Schoolchildren sang the anthem in Sinhalese, from the ethnic majority group, and the minority Tamil language at the ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of independence from Britain.

The move, despite opposition from Sinhalese nationalists, is an effort to reach out to Tamils after rebels from the ethnic minority fought a nearly 26-year war for a separate homeland until their crushing defeat in 2009.

President Maithripala Sirisena says he will unite the nation, a process which has not been given prominence since independence. Sirisena's hard-line predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was accused of further alienating the Tamil community by his post-war triumphalism. He had imposed an unofficial ban on the Tamil version of the national anthem.

In his speech Thursday, Sirisena said his political opponents were trying to create fear among the armed forces that fought the war that they will be penalised for rights abuses. He pledged to promote ethnic reconciliation while safeguarding the country's sovereignty and respect of the military.

"Our aim is to turn the armed forces into a world recognised one," he said.

Members from Sri Lankan military march during Sri Lanka's 68th Independence day celebrations in Colombo, February 4, 2016. [Reuters]

The government was accused of indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence, while Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of child recruitment and killing civilians.

Last year's report from UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that the patterns of violations strongly indicated war crimes and crimes against humanity were likely committed by both sides. Zeid is scheduled to visit Saturday.

Sirisena said his government would face UN recommendations, which are opposed by some opposition parties and nationalist Sinhala Buddhist groups.

TRTWorld, AP