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Sri Lanka seeks more time for ethnic reconciliation


President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday pleaded for more time to bring about reconciliation and ensure accountability seven years after Sri Lanka’s ethnic war that claimed over 100,000 lives.

Sirisena said he urged United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during talks on Thursday to be patient with his administration which came to power in January last year on a promise of lasting peace and ethnic unity.

"I told him not to be in a hurry. Be patient, give me some more time to rebuild my country," he said. "The Secretary-General had a smile on his face and told me: ‘You continue your work.’" 

Speaking at the 65th anniversary celebrations of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party in the north-western town of Kurunegala, Sirisena said he has managed to end the country’s international pariah status since coming to power in January last year.

Sri Lanka had faced international censure after his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse insisted that not a single civilian was killed by troops under his command.

Rajapakse also refused to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 minority Tamil civilians perished in the final stages of the war in 2009. More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1972 and 2009.

Earlier this year, Sirisena pledged to provide state land to those affected by the war and unable to go back to their own homes which were either destroyed in the war or are still occupied by the military.

In a public lecture in Colombo on Friday, Ban welcomed what he called symbolic steps taken by Sirisena’s administration to ensure reconciliation but called for more momentum to ensure lasting peace.

"I also urge you to speed up the return of (Tamil) land so that the remaining communities of displaced people can return home," Ban said.

"In parallel, the size of the military force in the (former war zones of) North and East could be reduced, helping to build trust and reduce tensions."

He also pressed for accountability for the "tens of thousands of civilians" who perished in the final months of the war in 2009, a figure disputed by the former government.

"There is still much work to be done in order to redress the wrongs of the past," he added.