COLOMBO: In a major shift in his policy, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that he will engage with the Tamil diaspora for reconciliation talks to resolve the country's internal problems and would not hesitate to grant presidential pardon to Tamil youths languishing in jails for their association with the banned LTTE.
Rajapaksa's comments came as the UN Human Rights Council last week announced in Geneva that they are in possession of some 120,000 pieces of evidence on alleged abuses committed by Sri Lankan troops during the final phase of the conflict.
Rajapaksa, 72, in November 2019 upon being elected President said he had been elected by the Sinhala majority and would serve their interests.
He had adopted a stance of non negotiations with the Tamil groups previously.
In a statement issued by President Rajapaksa's office in Colombo during his first overseas tour to address the high-level UN General Assembly sessions, he said that internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism and that the Tamil diaspora would be invited for discussions.
Rajapaksa told the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres that he would not hesitate to grant presidential pardon to Tamil youths who have been held over a longtime for their association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Rajapaksa as the top defense bureaucrat under his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency between 2005-15 spearheaded the military crushing of the LTTE ending their three decades-old bloody separatist campaign in 2009.
He had survived an assassination attempt carried out by the LTTE suicide bombers in 2006.
Rajapaksa advocated to work in close cooperation with the UN in another shift in his policy where in May 2020 he had said if any international body or organisation continuously targets Sri Lankan government troops using baseless allegations, "I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organisations".
In March, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka's rights record, giving the UN body a mandate to collect evidence of crimes committed during the country's brutal three decade-long civil war against the LTTE.
The resolution calls upon the Sri Lankan government to ensure prompt thorough and impartial investigation, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international human rights law during the country's three decade-long civil war.
The Tamil minority has welcomed the resolution.
According to the Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
The Tamils alleged that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war that ended in 2009 when the government forces killed LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it as a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE's control.
At the end of the civil war, the United Nations accused both sides of atrocities, especially during the conflict's final stages.