COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s new leader, Maithripala Sirisena, has named a former diplomat as governor of the northern province, replacing a retired military officer in a bid to forge reconciliation with ethnic minority Tamils after the end of a 26-year war.
Since the 2009 end of the war, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained tight security in the region, ignoring requests to appoint a civilian governor to speed reconciliation efforts.
The government announced the appointment of H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, a former Sri Lankan permanent envoy to the United Nations, on its official website late on Thursday.
“The government has appointed a non-military civil servant as the governor,” it said.
During his 38-year career, Palihakkara was also foreign secretary and a disarmament adviser to the UN Secretary-General.
He served as a member of a domestic reconciliation panel appointed by Rajapaksa to examine possible violations of human rights in the final phase of the war.
Rajapaksa’s failure to adopt the panel’s recommendation to tackle such violations led to international pressure, with the U.N. rights body urging a probe into war crimes in March.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the former proxy political party of the Tamil Tiger rebels, which has long sought the removal of the previous governor, welcomed the move.
“Changing the military governor to a civilian is a progressive step,” Suresh Premachandran, spokesman of the TNA, which backed Sirisena unconditionally at polls on Jan. 8,
“He has first-hand information on what happened in the war. We hope he will take decisions in consultation with the elected representative, unlike the former military governor.”
The TNA complained to parliament that former governor G.A. Chandrasiri had hampered many policy decisions by the northern provincial council, despite the party’s majority of more than two-thirds in that body.
Rajapaksa gave Chandrasiri another five-year term in July.
Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Clarence Fernandez