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Sri Lanka begins process of writing new constitution to prevent war

Sri Lanka’s president has marked his first year in office by pledging to draw up a new constitution for the country. It is hoped the document will eliminate the causes that led to a 25-year-civil war.

President Maithripala Sirisena (pictured above) told parliament Saturday he wanted a new governing document for the country to guarantee Sri Lanka does not see a repeat of a bloody ethnic civil war in which 100,000 people died between 1972 and 2009.

Since 1948, the year Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain, the country's constitutions have never focused on unifying different ethnic communities, he said in the chamber.

"The extremists in the (Sinhalese majority) south and the (minority Tamil) north have caused the loss of thousands of young lives," the president went on to say.

The leader of the war-torn island acknowledged the difficulty in crafting a constitution that would satisfy both sides.

Sinhalese oppose a federal system that would ensure greater political power for minority Tamils, Sirisena said.

"We need a constitution that suits the needs of the 21st century and makes sure that all communities live in harmony," Sirisena told legislators, adding that he was ready to shed executive powers in favor of a strengthened parliament.

The new statute, President Sirisena said, would be put to a nationwide referendum, with hopes that will occur early next year.

Speaking to news agency AFP this week, Sirisena said he would like to see Sri Lanka's all-powerful executive presidency abolished and a return to a parliamentary democracy, which the island nation had until 1978.

‘Constitutional Assembly' called

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced a planned "Constitutional Assembly" Saturday which would consist of legislators, who would seek public input and made recommendations that would be debated and used to formulate a new governing document.

Objections by the majority ethnic Sinhala community to power sharing deals with the minority ethnic Tamils early on led to terrorism and war, he added.

"I believe now, through our past bitter experiences, we must prepare ourselves for future challenges," he said.

Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting to establish an independent state for the country's minority ethnic Tamils were defeated by Sri Lankan troops in 2009.

As many as 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the civil war, according to a United Nations report.

Sri Jayawardenepura has promised the United Nations Human Rights Council it will

investigate alleged war crime allegations against government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels

which are said to have occurred during the war.

jlw/ng (AFP, AP)

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