Jaffna Tamils flock to join Sri Lanka police

For the first time in more than three decades, Tamils from the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna are being recruited to join the police force in a move that may go some way towards aiding political reconciliation.

Officials said more than 6,500 people, including 400 women, had applied for 500 advertised police constable positions. It will be the first time such jobs have been taken up by Tamils in the city since 1978. "The youth are very enthusiastic to join," a police spokesman, Nimal Mediwake, told Reuters. "We couldn't recruit any officers since 1978, [but] after the death of the LTTE we see an interest."

The government has not recruited Tamils from Jaffna for more than 30 years, when the recently defeated rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), began killing and threatening Tamils who worked for the government. The rebels wanted independence for the north and east of the country and viewed Tamils who worked for the government as traitors. Although Jaffna itself had been in government control since 1995, areas nearby remained in the control of the LTTE, which destroyed three police stations in the city during the early stages of its decades-long struggle for a separate state.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the LTTE this year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for national reconciliation and said minorities should not face discrimination. However, Tamils have remained largely unconvinced by his rhetoric.

The return of some kind of police powers to Tamil-majority areas like Jaffna had been part of efforts to bring one of Asia's longest-running wars to a peaceful end. But after the collapse of peace talks in 2006, the government decided to crush the rebel forces once and for all. The UN has estimated that up to 10,000 civilians were killed in the final stages of the conflict.