Sri Lanka’s President appeared to hitch his political fortunes to nationalism an d reflected glory from the military victory over separatists as he commemorated the annihilation of the Tamil Tigers.
Addressing a military ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of defeating Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), President Maithripala Sirisena criticised his own state-run media for insufficient adoration of troops.
He ticked off government-run media outlets for not singing hosannas in praise of “rana viruvas” (war heroes). He also accused private media institutions of ignoring the government’s welfare measures for war veterans.
“We must grant the highest honours to our brave soldiers and always be grateful to the sacrifices they made,” Sirisena said while accusing unnamed senior members of his cabinet of being disrespectful of veterans.
“Unfortunately, some members of the government are also unable to differentiate between the terrorists and rana viruvas.”
He attempted to discount claims of civilians casualties during the decades-long Tamil separatist war saying there were no reliable accounts of how many had actually died.
The only reliable figures were those of members of security forces killed in the conflict, he said adding that 28,708 government forces had died while another 40,107 were wounded.
It would be fair to assume that about 100,000 Sri Lankans, including security personnel, were killed, but did not offer estimates for civilians and Tamil separatists killed.
He also warned that the LTTE was still active abroad propagating its ideology for an independent state carved out of Sri Lanka.
“We have succeeded in defeating terrorism, but not their ideology,” Sirisena lamented. He said Tigers and their sympathisers abroad were campaigning against Sri Lanka and had protested during his visit to London last month.
His hard-hitting speech on Saturday was the clearest signal that he was linking his political future to a nationalistic stance similar to the campaign of the former Rajapaksa administration.
He came to power in January 2015, thanks to overwhelming support from the minority Tamil community which, by and large, rejected the nationalistic policies of the former regime.
Sirisena extolled the patriotism, bravery, valour and courage of security forces and wanted state media to keep Sri Lankans reminded of the sacrifices made by the military.
He claimed that there were no war crimes charges against government forces at the UN Human Rights Council. However, he said, the media and non-governmental organisations were misrepresenting the facts and claiming that the security forces were to be hauled up for human rights abuses.