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Sri Lanka names first Tamil navy chief since 1970

Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah is the first Tamil to head a wing of the military since 1970, even though Tamils make up around 15 percent of Sri Lanka’s population.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2017 18:11 IST
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Sri Lankan President's Office on August 18, 2017, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (L) swears in the new Navy commander Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah (R) in Colombo.
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Sri Lankan President's Office on August 18, 2017, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (L) swears in the new Navy commander Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah (R) in Colombo. (AFP Photo)

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday appointed an officer from the island’s Tamil minority to head the navy for the first time since a separatist war erupted 45 years ago.

Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah is the first Tamil to head a wing of the military since 1970, even though Tamils make up around 15 percent of Sri Lanka’s population.

In 1972, the separatist Tamil Tigers took up arms and launched a bloody guerrilla war for a separate state for the ethnic minority that only ended in May 2009 when they were crushed in a no-holds barred military offensive.

“Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah, who has served Sri Lanka navy with immense loyalty for many decades, took office as the navy commander today,” the president said on Twitter.

He was a key figure in the war, capturing over a dozen Tamil Tiger rebels as they tried to flee the island in October 1987. Twelve committed suicide, an incident that controversially dragged Indian troops into fighting the Tigers.

Sinniah is also credited with destroying floating armouries owned by the Tigers and cutting off their supplies ahead of the final battles in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s separatist war claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people between 1972 and 2009, according to UN estimates.

The conflict discouraged the mainly Hindu Tamil community as well as Muslims -- Sri Lanka’s second largest minority -- from joining the armed forces and police.

Only a few of them remain in the military.

The Tamil Tigers had cited discrimination in jobs and education among the key reasons for their campaign for a separate state.

aj/cc/iw