Sinhalese hardliners Monday urged Sri Lanka’s president to reduce powers of a regional council won by Tamils in an election hailed internationally as a step towards ethnic reconciliation after decades of war.
The National Heritage Party (JHU) said the first semi-autonomous body won by the minority Tamil National Alliance (TNA) could eventually lead to the division of the island on ethnic lines.
The opposition TNA won 30 out of 38 seats in polls for a provincial council in Jaffna established 26 years ago, but ruled directly by the president until elections Saturday in an area scarred by ethnic strife.
“The real war has just begun,” said Udaya Gammanpila, a leader of the JHU which is a coalition partner of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government.
“The TNA will revive the separatists’ campaign through the provincial council.”
In theory, the country’s nine provincial councils have powers over police and land. Until now, none of the councils have actually exercised those powers but the TNA is pressing a claim to have both under its control.
“We are entering a new phase of the war. It is not a war that will be fought with guns and bombs,” Gammanpila told AFP.
He said the JHU had told the government it was not too late too trim the powers of the council and prevent the start of a new political conflict that could be internationalised.
Rajapakse came to power in 2005 on a strong nationalist platform, supported by the JHU, a party initially formed with a band of influential Buddhist monks who oppose power-sharing with Tamils.
Rajapakse has strengthened his hold on power after crushing Tamil rebels in May 2009 and declaring an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed in which at least 100,000 people were killed, according to UN estimates.
During a bitterly fought election campaign, the president had accused the TNA of raising expectations of a separate state.
However, after the results were announced Sunday, TNA’s chief minister-elect C.V. Wigneswaran told reporters in Jaffna that he was willing to work with Colombo.
He said there was mistrust between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, but he had “great faith in humanity” to resolve differences.
“There is a fear of separation, but all we are asking for is a federal state which exists within the boundaries of Sri Lanka,” he said.
The United States, which has raised war crimes allegations against Colombo, said it welcomed the election as a first step in reconciliation.
“These elections provided a starting point for that process,” the US embassy said in a statement. “Democracy is not simply about elections, however, and more must be done to ensure that Sri Lankans of all communities can live in the peace and dignity that they deserve.