Sri Lanka president visits Tamil heartland

Chandi Dharmaratne

JAFFNA, April 1, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse reached out on Thursday to the country’s ethnic minority Tamils as he made his first visit to their cultural heartland since his re-election. Rajapakse, on a trip to battle-scarred Jaffna, the former stronghold of separatist Tamil rebels in the island’s north, promised to work for national unity and reconciliation.

The campaign stop in Jaffna ahead of parliamentary elections on April 8 saw the 64-year-old address thousands of supporters at the Alfred Duraiappa Stadium, named after a former Jaffna mayor assassinated by the rebels.

Rajapakse resoundingly won re-election in January, largely due to a wave of popular support for his successful onslaught against the Tamil Tiger separatists last year, which ended their 37-year fight for a homeland.

“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.”

Rajapakse won the votes of most of the Sinhalese ethnic group, to which he belongs, but lost out in Tamil areas such as Jaffna to his rival Sarath Fonseka, a former army chief.