Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called for unity in his message ahead of the country's first New Year celebrations since the end of a brutal civil war that lasted almost three decades.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa
"It is my belief that these New Year festivities should seek to further unite our people in heart and mind," Sri Lanka's president said on Tuesday, just one week after his ruling United People's Freedom Alliance won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.
Sri Lanka's Sinhalese Buddhist majority and Tamil Hindu minority are both gearing up to celebrate New Year on April 14. with traditional sports festivals and events.
During decades of civil war, the day was often marred by bomb attacks and other incidents of violence that were blamed on the Tamil Tigers.
Peaceful New Year
Two Tamil brothers prepare garlands for New Year
This year, however, the run-up to New Year has been peaceful. Sri Lankans have been travelling around the country as security regulations have been relaxed. Roads have been unblocked after years and checkpoints have disappeared. Thousands of visitors from the south of the country have been travelling up to the northern region.
Soldiers in the region have even been given leave to visit their relatives in other parts of Sri Lanka. Others have also been organizing celebrations in the predominantly Tamil villages – those that were worst hit during the last brutal months of the war last year and in the displaced persons' camps.
"We are relaxed and have no tension this year. Even I can take time to visit my parents," military spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe said on Monday.
A roadside shopkeeper sells food to New Year revellers
Some 100,000 civilians died and around 23,000 soldiers were killed in Sri Lanka's civil war. In the final phase of the conflict, over 300,000 civilians were displaced.
General Fonseka, who spearheaded the campaign, is now in military custody for charges of conspiracy against the government. He denies the charges. He ran against Rajapaksa in January's presidential elections but lost. Soon afterwards, he was arrested by military police.
He also contested a seat in Colombo in last week's parliamentary polls and won, but his party generally did poorly.
Editor: Disha Uppal