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President praised for apology to Tamils for '83 pogrom

by E.Weerapperuma and Chamikara Weerasinghe

A cross section of society praised President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for her decision to apologise to the Tamil Community for the atrocities committed during the July 1983 riots.

President Kumaratunga, in her address on Friday at a special ceremony to pay compensation to the victims of Black July riots, noted that there should be a public apology for the pogrom if the country is to move forward. (Full text)

Those interviewed by the Daily News favoured such an apology and said it was a gracious act on the part of everyone concerned to say "we are sorry".

It would go a long way to heal the wounds present in the victims of the brutal massacre which occurred 21 years ago.Here are excerpts of the comments:

General Secretary of Jathika Hela Urumaya Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera said the President in her address had indicated the importance of being able to accept one's misdeeds as a means to bring about peace between one another. "President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been exemplary. She went on to make a public apology at the 50th Independence Day Celebrations about what had happened in 1983. However, the question remains whether the LTTE also accepts their misdeeds. The Government-LTTE talks would be fruitless if they do not show equal commitment for a peaceful solution acceptable to all. It was a shame that political leaders fuelled a communal war at the '83 riots to gain meagre political ambitions," he said.

Ven. Prof Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera: "It is true that there should be a public apology. But I think such an apology should be mutual.

Whilst the Sinhalese apologise for the July '83 incidents, the LTTE should also make an apology for incidents like attacking the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and the slaying of Buddhist monks at Arantalawa.

"The President's statement is significant but at the same time we must remember that the July '83 riots did not spring up suddenly, but as a result of the breach of confidence between the Sinhala and Tamil communities."

Rev. Fr. Anslem Silva OMI, Director, Centre for Society and Religion: "If we are to proceed with the peace process, reconciliation with all communities is a must.

It is the politicians who should take the lead in apologising to the community for creating animosity among communities to realise their petty political goals.

"It might be very late to tender an apology as the President has suggested. But it is still worth and it is the politicians who should say they are sorry for what they have done. Who set the people of this country against the Tamils ? It is the politicians. It was a politically motivated attack against the Tamils. The ordinary people were living in harmony. The politicians pulled them up against each other and the end result was looting, massacre and barbarian acts. Innocent people were burnt alive."

"We in Sri Lanka have been stressing the need to reconcile with all to make peace a reality. The Catholic Church welcomes the President's statement at a time when the country is clamouring for peace. Peace is possible only with reconciliation."

National Left Front politburo member Vallippuram Thirunavukkarasu said it is commendable that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had urged political leaders responsible for perpetrating violence in 1983 against the Tamils, to make a public apology for their actions.

"The UNP was in power then. It was very clear that UNP perpetrated violence against the Tamils in July 1983. The President had set a fine example in keeping with her words." Thirunavukkarasu commended President Kumaratunga for financially compensating the affected Tamil public.

"As the President mentioned in her address, we too believe that it was necessary to move the country forward. Apologies and compensations mean a very little if the country was not moving forward."

Kingsley Rodrigo, the Executive Director People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL): "We hail the call of the President as one of the best features of her Presidency. The call comes after many years of the massacre and crime committed against the Tamils of this country. But it is never too late. Her call is one of the best acts of the politicians of the present day. It is a very good move and we welcome and support her."

Nimalka Fernando, Attorney-at-Law: "In my view, it is very commendable that the President made this public statement. Furthermore, as much as the Government should apologise for the riots, I think the Sinhala people also owe an apology to the Tamils because it is they (Sinhalese) who elect Governments."

The President should take action against those who led and participated in the riots, without stopping at an apology. "The Truth Commission appointed by the President has revealed and documented the persons responsible for this incident and she must now take steps to make indictment against them."

The Executive Director Transparency International J.C. Weliamuna: "The apology seems to generate some political openness to the events of the Black July.

What happened was a very pathetic social event to which all the politicians from the President should tender an apology. She as President tendered an apology. Not only the President, all politicians responsible for what happened in July '83 should apologise."

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