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R. Sampanthan, the face of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and its struggle post-civil war, dies at 91

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Rajavarothiyam Sampanthan, a senior ethnic Tamil leader and lawmaker, who became the face of the minority community’s campaign for autonomy in Sri Lanka since the end of a brutal quarter-century civil war, has died. He was 91.

A lawyer by profession, Sampanthan entered Parliament for the first time in 1977 as part of a coalition that won an election mandate to campaign for an independent state for the Tamils, alleging continued marginalization by successive governments controlled by the majority ethnic Sinhalese.

He lost his seat along with the rest of his party colleagues in 1983 after boycotting Parliament, protesting a law introduced by the then government that prohibited propagation and promotion of separatism.

The loss of Parliament representation strengthened the radicals and a full-blown civil war broke out between Tamil separatists and the state.

Sampanthan became prominent after 2001 when he was elected to Parliament under the Tamil National Alliance brought together by the Tamil Tigers rebel group to be their democratic voice, as they agreed to a Norway-brokered peace process.

After peace talks broke down and the rebels were crushed by government forces in 2009, Sampanthan has taken the task being a leader to the Tamil community. Since then, he had been at the forefront demanding justice for alleged war crimes, winning increased autonomy and recognition for the Tamil-majority north and east, while also reaching out to the Sinhalese community.

In 2015 he became only the second ethnic Tamil to be appointed opposition leader in Parliament and held the position until 2018.

Though his mission remains unfulfilled at his death, Sampanthan has played a key role in raising international