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International Crisis Group sees land conflict in East
2008-10-16 16:11:29

COLOMBO/BRUSSELS, 15 October 2008: Sri Lanka’s government must address the security needs and land-related grievances of all ethnic communities in its Eastern Province or risk losing a unique opportunity for development and peace, warns the International Crisis Group.

Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province: Land, Development, Conflict, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, says Sri Lanka’s government must devolve real power to the new Eastern Provincial Council, end impunity for ongoing rights violations and work to develop a lasting political consensus on issues of land, security and power sharing with independent representatives of all communities.

“The Eastern Province needs development”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “It also urgently needs political and administrative reforms. Without those, economic development could actually worsen existing conflicts”. The ICG group in its report also notes:

The Eastern Province is Sri Lanka’s most ethnically complex region, with roughly equal numbers of Tamils and Muslims and a sizeable Sinhala minority. It has seen some of the worst of Sri Lanka’s inter-ethnic violence. By mid-2007, a government military campaign had driven the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from portions of the east they had controlled for more than a decade. The government promised to restore democracy, devolve power and develop the province economically.

The removal of the LTTE has brought benefits to all three communities. But tensions between Tamils and Muslims remain high, aggravated by the flawed and ethnically divisive provincial council elections in May 2008. The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), an armed LTTE splinter group now in power on the provincial council, remains accused of widespread extortion, abductions and killings. Many Muslims and Tamils also fear the government plans to “Sinhalise” the east through development projects that will bring in new Sinhala settlers. Sinhalese in some parts of the province continue to have their own security concerns that warrant careful attention.

To build confidence among all three communities, the government should develop transparent policies on security, the fair allocation of state land, the legitimate protection of religious sites and the equitable distribution of the benefits of economic development. Sri Lanka’s government should invite opposition parties to join a regional peace process to discuss the grievances of the three communities and seek consensus on viable forms of power sharing at all levels of governance.

“All parties, including the government, must eschew the politics of ethnic division”, says Donald Steinberg, Crisis Group Deputy President for Policy. “Good faith negotiations to empower the local population are essential for long-term stability in the region”.

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