Brussels : A report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) Tuesday noted that Sri Lanka's Muslims have been "victims of massacres, ethnic cleansing Â and forced displacement over the past two decades, largely by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)."
Â Immediate steps should be taken to ensure the security and political
involvement of Sri Lanka's Muslims, whose views must be taken into account if a lasting peace settlement is to be achieved, suggests the think-tank in its report "Sri Lanka's Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire."
Â "The Muslims are the forgotten party in the Sri Lankan conflict", said
David Lewis, ICG's Senior Analyst in the region.
Â Â "The government needs to address the Muslim issue more directly, as part of a comprehensive political proposal Â that offers real devolution, if there is to be a political settlement."
Â One third of Sri Lanka's nearly two million Muslims live in the conflict-affected north and east and thus have a significant interest in any future settlement.
Â The resumption of large-scale military action in 2006 saw more killings
and displacement of Muslims in the east, as well as conflict with the
pro-government Tamil paramilitary group, the Karuna faction.
Â Muslims are also concerned about government plans for the eastern
province, which so far do not show any Â willingness to devolve powers to local communities.
Â While the Muslim community has largely refrained from resorting
to violence in the past, some frustrated youth are showing increasing
interest in more radical versions of Islam, warns the ICG report.
Â All parties to future peace talks must support the Muslim community's
demand for a separate delegation. In any final peace settlement, the parties must ensure the right of return of displaced Muslims, it recommends.
Â The government should also assert effective control over pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups such as the Karuna faction and end their involvement in kidnapping, extortion and other criminal activity.
Â Any new interim government for the Eastern province must include
equitable power-sharing for Muslims as well as Tamils, along with the
enhancement of local government structures.
Â In parallel, Tamil militant groups should make a public commitment to
Muslim representation and their return to their original properties.
Â "In the absence of serious attention to Muslim concerns, the growing
frustration among young people poses a potential threat", said Robert Templer, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director. "Only a settlement in which all communities' concerns are addressed can lead to a lasting peace".
Â The Brussels-based ICG says it is an independent, non-profit,
non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents.