September 28, 2009 / 12:44 PM / 10 years ago

Sri Lanka recruits Tamil police in former war zone

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka is recruiting Tamil police officers from the northern city of Jaffna for the first time since it became the epicentre of a three-decade ethnic separatist insurgency defeated in May, police said on Monday.

More than 6,500 people, including 400 women, applied for 500 police constable jobs in Jaffna, the Defence Ministry said.

The government has not recruited Tamils from Jaffna since 1978, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began killing and threatening Tamils who worked for the government they wanted to supplant in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

“The youth are very enthusiastic to join the police,” police spokesman Nimal Mediwake said. “We couldn’t recruit any officers since 1978 and after the death of the LTTE, we see an interest.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised Tamils equal rights now that the war is over, and Western governments are pressuring his administration to speed up political reconciliation and free 260,000 Tamil war refugees now held in camps.

The government says it first must demine the former war zone and weed out LTTE sympathisers among the refugees who fled the end of the war, but is offering former fighters rehabilitation.

Mediwake said all police recruits would be similarly screened before being accepted for training.

The Jaffna peninsula has been under military control since 1995, but was on the periphery of LTTE-controlled areas in Sri Lanka’s Northern province throughout that period.

The LTTE viewed any Tamil that worked with the government a traitor, and that has kept members of the minority group from joining police ranks since the Tigers’ insurgency erupted into full-blown civil war in 1983.

Early in its fight to create a separate state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, the LTTE destroyed three police stations in Jaffna as part of its fight against successive governments on the Indian Ocean island, all ruled by the Sinhalese majority.

The return of some kind of police powers to Tamil-majority areas like Jaffna has been part of most political efforts to peacefully end what was one of Asia’s longest-running wars.

But the government and the LTTE fought until the bitter end after the collapse of peace talks in 2006, with Sri Lanka’s military in May capturing the whole island for the first time since 1983 and killing the LTTE leadership.

Writing by Shihar Aneez, Editing by Bryson Hull and Bill Tarrant

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