Sri Lanka lifts unofficial ban on Tamil national anthem

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- 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.

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Schoolchildren sang the national 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 the Tamils who fought a nearly 26-year war for a separate homeland until the rebels were crushed 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 penalized 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 recognized one," he said.

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


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