Sri Lankan minister apologises for Jaffna library arson

Burning of Jaffna library is considered important event in Lankan civil war.

Updated: Jun 24, 2010, 16:46 PM IST

Colombo: Nearly three decades after the world famous Jaffna library was burnt, a Sri Lankan minister has apologised for the incident which destroyed around 97,000 books and manuscripts, including many on Tamil culture.

"Thirty years back this library was set on fire by the goondas (goons) and caused indescribable loss not only to Jaffna but to the whole country," Power and Energy minister Patali Champika Ranawake said.

"I have come to apologise for that dastardly act and beg the pardon of the Tamil community," Ranawake said at a function in the library auditorium in Jaffna yesterday.

"The small gift of books I am presenting to the library would go a long way to remove the scars of the wounds suffered by our Tamil brethren," the Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya party member said.

Jaffna Mayor Y Patkunarajah presided over the function.

The burning of the Jaffna library is considered an important event in the Sri Lankan civil war. An organised mob went on a rampage on the nights of May 31 to June 02, 1981, burning the library.

At the time of its destruction, the library was one of the biggest in Asia, containing over 97,000 different books and manuscript.

It all started on May 31, 1981, when a regional Tamil party held a popular rally during which three Sinhalese policemen were shot and two killed leading to the backlash.

The destroyed articles included memoirs and works of writers and dramatists who made a significant contribution toward sustenance of Tamil culture. It also contained books of locally reputed medical physicians and politicians.

"The government of that time thought that the protests from the Tamils could be crushed by acts of violence and threats," Ranawake was quoted today by state run Daily News.

He said before 1983 the Sinhalese and the Tamils were living in amity as members of one family.

"But racialism raised its ugly head and the race for political hegemony flared up communal riots...Both the Tamils and the Sinhalese indulged in acts of violence", he said, adding his party did not want "terrorism" to take stronghold and keep people in fear.

"That was why we joined with the government to crush the LTTE. The LTTE has been annihilated and there is no obstacle for both the Tamils and the Sinhalese to unite and build a united Lanka," Ranawake added.