Sri Lanka ends decades-long occupation of Tamil port

Sri Lanka’s military said Tuesday it has ended its occupation of a major fishing harbour after 27 years and allowed Tamil civilians in the former war zone to take back their land.

Security forces withdrew from the Mayliddy harbour in the Jaffna peninsula on Monday, bowing to the long-standing demands of fishermen and their families from the minority Tamil community who have been living in camps for displaced people since June 1990.

“Accordingly, 187 families… are able to return to their original lands and resume their fishing livelihood after an absence of nearly 30 years,” the army said in a statement.

Sri Lanka’s 37-year-long Tamil separatist war ended in 2009, but government forces still maintain a large presence in the former conflict zones and keep a close watch on the local Tamil population.

The military, which is dominated by the island’s Sinhalese majority, also runs hotels, transport services and other enterprises in competition with local Tamil businesses.

The UN has been pressing Colombo to step up reconciliation efforts and reduce the military’s presence in former war zones, including the Jaffna peninsula, the heartland of minority Tamils.

Tamil rebels fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic minority were defeated in a final military push after decades of conflict.

Sri Lanka faced international censure during the regime of former president Mahinda Rajapakse, who refused to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 minority Tamil civilians perished in the final stages of the war.

His successor, Maithripala Sirisena, came to power after promising reconciliation and accountability for war-time atrocities, but rights groups say progress on both fronts has been slow.