Central & South Asia
Sri Lanka leader appeals to Tamils
President promises island's ethnic minorities opportunity to resolve issues themselves.
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2010 08:44 GMT
Rajapaska told Tamils in Jaffna that the country should end 'ethnic thinking' [AFP]

Sri Lanka's president has promised to work towards national unity and reconciliation during a visit to the ethnic minority Tamil heartland in the north of the country.

Mahinda Rajapakse visited the town on Jaffna, which was held by the separatist Tamil Tigers for five years, on Thursday as he campaigned for his party ahead of parliamentary elections on April 8.

"We should get rid of the ethnic thinking and should not be racists," Rajapaksa told supporters at the Alfred Duraiappa Stadium.

"We will be able to solve the issues in the north through the people's participation councils by giving the opportunity to the people to address issues by themselves."

Rajapakse was re-elected as president following elections in January, largely on the back of popular support from the country's Sinhalese majority.

in depth
  Profile: Sarath Fonseka
  Profile: Mahinda Rajapaksa
  Rajapaksa's minority report
  Inside Story: Sri Lanka's future
  101 East: After the war

Despite his resounding victory, he lost out to Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief, in predominantly Tamil areas just months after declaring victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists.   

"I thank all those who voted at the presidential election," Rajapakse said.

"Even though not all voted for me, they participated in a democratic process which will lead to unity and national reconciliation."

The LTTE, which fought a 37-year war for an independent homeland in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island, controlled Jaffna until it was forced out by the military in December 1995.

However, access to the town remained limited until recently because of fighting between the separatists and government forces elsewhere in the region.

Rajapakse said he was keen to establish IT-based industries in Jaffna, 400km north of the capital, Colombo, and spur greater economic development in the area.

With the opposition deeply divided following the electoral defeat of Fonseka and then his detention, the ruling Freedom Alliance is tipped to win the April 8 polls.

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