The Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, has allayed a fear among the Tamils that the government in Colombo is planning to arrest and prosecute those who had organized or participated in observances relating to the Great Heroes‘ Day of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on November 27.
The State Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene, had told the State-owned Daily News that the government will not tolerate the observance of the Great Heroes’ Day which commemorates dead LTTE cadres because the LTTE is a banned organization.
Wijewardene said that the police are collecting evidence about the participants in the observances and those guilty will be arrested and prosecuted.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran had himself supported the observances, in which posters bearing the image of the slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakran were pasted on walls and propaganda songs of the militant groups were played over loud speakers.
Wigneswaran urged people not to take Minister Wijewardene’s threat seriously.
“The government cannot arrest participants after permitting the observances. The Minister had talked about arrests only to manage criticism from the Sinhalese majority in South Sri Lanka. Therefore, the threat should not be taken seriously,” he reasoned.
In this context, Wigneswaran referred to statements by President Maithripala Sirisena promising that “war heroes” ( Sri Lankan army personnel) would not be made to stand trial in international courts for alleged violations of human rights, and said that such promises are made from public platforms only to allay fears among the country’s Sinhalese majority.
Wigneswaran said that President Sirisena is a well meaning person and urged Tamils to understand the context in which the President makes statements.
The Northern Province Chief Minister also indicated that he views the annual Great Heroes’ Day (Maaverar Naal) observances as “Tamil Great Heroes’ Day” because the day has come to represent, in the Tamils’ collective consciousness, the supreme sacrifice made by Tamils for the cause of freedom.
Some Tamil intellectuals like the writer Sivarasa Karunagaran would like the Great Heroes Day to be a day to remember, not just the dead cadres of the LTTE, but the dead cadres of all Tamil militant groups. Presently, each group, conducts observance rituals on a separate day, he pointed out.
The Sri Lankan army also honors its dead, but on a separate day. To promote national reconciliation, it had been suggested that the government should go for a common Sri Lankan remembrance day for all those who died in the 30 year war, including civilians from across ethnicities.
But this suggestion has not been taken because the Sinhalese majority considers dead government troops to be the “war heroes” and the Tamils consider dead LTTE cadres to be “martyrs” in opposition to each other.
However, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, which came into power in 2015, initially wanted to turn the May 19 “Victory Day” into a “Remembrance Day” in honor of all those who fought to maintain the unity of the country. But within days of this decision, the idea was given up due to pressure from the opposition led by former hawkish President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who celebrated May 18 as Victory Day.