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Globe editorial

Victory is a chance for accommodation

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam deserved their eventual defeat in the quarter-century-old Sri Lankan civil war, but the government of Sri Lanka must now act to conciliate the Tamils. There is no longer any danger that accommodation of this minority could be interpreted as appeasement of terrorists, after such a complete military victory.

The Tamils of Sri Lanka were believed to be a privileged group when the British ruled South Asia, especially those Tamils who moved to the island then known as Ceylon, from the south of continental India. After independence in 1948, many politicians of the Sinhalese majority sought to humble the Tamils, as if to compensate. But six decades have passed since the end of the British Raj.

The Tamils may well have suffered more than any other group as a result of the LTTE insurrection, although many felt various degrees of misguided sympathy for the Tigers. About 250,000 of them have been turned into refugees by the last phase of the war. While the LTTE engaged in terrorism as well as other kinds of warfare, the Sri Lankan armed forces have hardly been scrupulous in their treatment of civilians.

Though it is far-fetched to hope that Sri Lankan politicians might look to Canada for guidance, they could do much worse, particularly by consideration of this country's Constitution. At present, the Sri Lankan Constitution gives primacy to the Sinhalese language and to Sinhalese Buddhism as the country's chief religion - a contrast with Canada's approach to language and religion.

In a recent speech, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President, had some conciliatory words, but reasserted Sri Lanka as a unitary state, as does the Constitution itself. Sri Lanka has many subordinate administrative districts, but no equivalent to provinces or states. While it would probably be a bad idea to establish a semi-autonomous region with a special status where the population is mostly Tamil, Sri Lanka would do well to turn toward federalism, with a set of juridically equal provinces on something like the Canadian or Australian model.

There are a few significant Tamil members of the Sri Lankan cabinet - among them Douglas Devananda, the Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare, who was able to identify the body of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE's leader.

It is especially incumbent on these politicians to work within the Sri Lankan government toward the fair treatment of all ethnic groups and for the reform of the country's political institutions.

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