COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka denied on Monday plans to outlaw the singing of the national anthem in Tamil after the main minority party raised strong objections to the mooted ban.
The status quo will remain, said public administration minister John Seneviratne, who is in charge of managing the code of conduct for the national anthem as well as the national flag.
"There is no decision to make a change with regard to the anthem and we will continue what we have been doing," Seneviratne told AFP.
The Sunday Times newspaper in Colombo reported that the cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse decided last week to order that only Sinhala should be used for the anthem.
Language and discrimination were key issues used by Tamil Tiger separatists to gain popular support for their campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations that terrorised the country until last year.
The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), said earlier it was seeking clarification from the government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese ethnic group.
"At a time when the government is talking about ethnic harmony and national integration, this national anthem is an unwanted issue," TNA legislator Suresh Premachandran told AFP.
"If we can't sing the anthem in Tamil, we will be driven to boycott the anthem."
Traditional industries minister Douglas Devananda, who is Tamil, told the BBC Tamil service that the issue had been discussed in cabinet, but no final decision taken.
However, housing minister Wimal Weerawansa, a hardline nationalist, told the local Ada Derana television channel that he supported any move to outlaw the Tamil rendition of the anthem.
"Only in Sri Lanka you have the national anthem translated into another language and sung. This is a joke," Weerawansa said. "What the government is doing is to correct a wrong practice that has been in place since 1978."
Tamil separatists battled for a homeland for Tamils in the north of the Indian Ocean island for nearly 40 years.
Their violent campaign was finally crushed last year by government forces, but a legacy of polarisation and mistrust remains between the communities and Rajapakse made reconciliation a plank of his re-election campaign in January.
India, which has a large Tamil population, has led calls by the international community for Rajapakse to heal the wounds of the country's civil war by reaching out to Tamils.
"If the reports in this regard are true, it is strongly condemnable," the chief minister of the Tamil-dominated Indian state of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, said in a statement.
"This will further dishearten Tamils (in Sri Lanka), who are already suffering. I condemn it." ~ courtesy: AFP ~