Sri Lankan Tamils openly commemorated their war dead for the first time on Monday, the sixth anniversary of the end of the island’s decades-long civil conflict.
Hundreds of Tamils lit oil lamps and gave offerings of flowers during a ceremony in Mullivaikkal village that was held openly for the first time after the country’s new government lifted a ban on commemorating Tamil victims.
Mullivaikkal is the northern village where Tamil Tiger rebels fought their last stand after 37 years of war, but for years, villagers were unable to mark the anniversary.
The military declared an end to the bloodshed when it finally killed Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran at a lagoon on the edge of the village on May 18, 2009, ending his long campaign for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils.
The United Nations estimates that some 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the district that includes Mullivaikkal where they had fled after the government declared it a safe area.
New President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to pursue reconciliation efforts with Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority more vigorously than predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse, a hardline Sinhalese nationalist who oversaw the crushing of the rebels.
However Suresh Premachandran, a lawmaker with the Tamil National Alliance party, noted that processions to commemorate the dead were still banned, and criticised the Sirisena regime for not going far enough.