by Gamini Weerakoon
There’s a marked similarity in the mellifluous flow of words of American President Barack Obama and our own Prof. G. L. Peiris. Their oratory serves as a wonderful wrapping paper to cover the cracks beneath. In the case of Obama the cracks are his own creations but with our ‘professori’ the cracks are the makings of: you know who.
On Tuesday in an ornate room of the old Colombo Club, the Professor delivered the key note address of a workshop of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo and the Centre for Security Analysis Chennai on the same theme, ‘Conflict in Sri Lanka: Internal and External Consequences.’
The Professor claimed: Though ending of long drawn serious conflicts like the near 30-year-conflict could have resulted in serious consequences over a wide geographical area the government had handled this extremely complex situation in a way that gave rise to minimal consequences. There has been no proliferation of arms to neighbouring countries, influx of refugees, active collaboration of terrorist groups in the region or a threat to sea lanes, while in 17 months 257,000 refugees have been settled and only 17,000 remained in welfare centers. Of the11,700 ex-combatants 5,700 have been rehabilitated and proceedings will be initiated against 1,400, the Professor claimed in a near hour long extempore oration.
What’s worrying Tamils?
This vintage GL oratory could have left many in the audience wondering: what have the Tamils to worry about? But to us something seemed missing. We looked around the hall but could not spot a single well known Sri Lankan Tamil academic or politician in the audience. We mingled with the audience after the speech with a cup of tea but apart from Tamils in the Chennai delegation led by Indian General (Red) Ragahavan, there seemed to be no Sri Lankan Tamil — not even a born again ex-terrorist now in ministerial ranks.
Maybe we would not have been able to spot one or two but even if they were there would it have mattered because if after 17 months, the Rajapaksa policies which claims to have done mightily for the Tamils, could not have attracted Tamil academicians in noticeable numbers?
The basic issue which has been not probed deeply is what the so called ‘ moderate Tamils’ now feel about this great ‘ humanitarian’ military victory. Our experience is that they politely avoid the issue for many reasons, the main one being —traces of fear and suspicion still lingering. There are a few that have come out in support of the government’s efforts but for 17 months, a poor number to give satisfaction. But the Rajapaksas and their supporters thump themselves vigorously on their backs claiming what great things they have done for Tamils and how magnanimous they have been.
Preaching to the converted and convinced is an exhilarating exercise but even the clever Professor’s claims of the Rajapaksa government’s astute handling of the diplomatic and postwar strategies will not stand to scrutiny. European Union’s allegation of violation of human rights by the government which resulted in Sri Lanka losing billions of dollars over the GSP+ concession and the decision by UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon to probe alleged war crimes of the Sri Lankan armed forces causing a head on collision with mighty Western nations which were our strong supporters and allies are illustrations of the bull in a China shop foreign policies adopted.
The main reason why the Western world looks at Sri Lanka with a jaundiced eye is the inability of the Rajapaksa government to find a solution to the main problem that plagues this country: solution to the Tamil problem. The All Party Conference was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s key to the resolution of the problem but after many years of painstaking work by Prof. Tissa Vitharana and all political parties, Rajapaksa has shelved it. Perhaps it is far too much a hot potato for the Sinhala south. Now he is betting on the Lessons Learnt Commission. As I mentioned earlier Tamils today fear they will never see a reasonable solution to the problems they face, as one and a half years after the war has ended it appears the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside.
A Tamil leader speaks out
Not many Tamils — not even political leaders speak out about the present situation. The evidence given by Dharmalingam Siddharthan, leader of the PLOTE (Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) before the Lessons Learnt Committee gives some indication of what Tamils feel and what their aspirations today are. This evidence of this prominent Tamil leader who joined the democratic political mainstream well over a decade and a half ago received scant coverage both in the state media and the privately owned state media bootlicking the Rajapaksa clan. It gives an indication of the importance placed on Tamil opinion.
The following are excerpts of Dharmalingam Siddharthan’s evidence: Tamils today fear they will never see a reasonable solution to the problems they face, as after one and a half years after the war has ended it appears the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside. I see clearly there is a conquered mentality among the Tamil people.
There are many reasons for saying this. Today, we see state lands in the north and east being grabbed in the name of development in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu, Murukkandy etc. and being allocated to big-time Sinhalese business people.
We do not oppose the entry of Sinhalese business people into the north, we are saddened that while the Tamil people who lost all but their lives during the war, are offered no help economically and are thereby in no position to compete with the financially affluent business people from the south of the country.
These people (from the south of the country) in addition have political support and the support of the armed forces. Lands are identified and have been demarcated for particular Sinhalese business persons.
Tamil people in general and my organisation in particular welcomes back into the north and east Sinhalese people who were displaced or perhaps I should say ethnically cleansed by the LTTE.
Unfortunately today we are witnessing hundreds of people who have never lived in these areas, suddenly descending and laying claim to lands in the north.
Siddharthan also said: When the war was brought to an end by the armed forces, a section of the Tamils breathed a sigh of relief while another section was saddened as they were extreme Tamil nationalists and LTTE supporters.
However all sections of the Tamils whether they be LTTE sympathisers or opposed to them, were fearful because the war came to an end without there being a reasonable solution, and all the sacrifices and dedication were in vain.
Today nearly one-and-a-half years later, there is still no sign of a political solution to the problems faced by the Tamil people.
Many Tamil people, Tamil groups, political parties and militant groups helped successive governments in its efforts believing that a political solution would be offered by the government of the day. Even Tamils who were in positions of power in the governments, such as Lakshman Kadirgamar who was largely responsible for procuring the help of the international community in the government’s war with the LTTE. He played a major role in getting the support of Western countries to ban the LTTE. He believed the problem had to be solved politically and not by military means.
Similarly other political parties like my own party the PLOTE, supported the successive governments because we believed in seeking a political solution to Tamil grievances within a united framework. The LTTE saw this as being traitorous to the cause of setting up a separate state and commenced killing large numbers of our cadres as well as cadres of those organisations which recognised a solution to the Tamil problems could be found within a united Sri Lanka.
Today thousands of widows and orphans belonging to parties which did not contribute to the LTTE beliefs languish below the poverty line. But government as well as international organisations seem to be hell bent on helping only LTTE cadres and their families with not a penny being spent to help uplift the families of Tamil militants who were killed because they strived towards achieving a political solution.
This situation must be corrected in the here and now.
These families must be helped to overcome the poverty into which they have been thrust by giving them a helping hand to restart their lives economically as well as to help them out of the traumatic times they have been, with trauma counselling. He also said that his organisation was deeply concerned about the sudden mushrooming of Buddhist temples in areas where no Buddhists live.
A good example of this is the land being allocated to construct a Buddhist temple in Mullaithivu (Vadduvahal Jnc.). This land was originally reserved for the construction of a co-operative society building.
I really cannot understand why a Buddhist temple is being constructed in an area where no Buddhist lives… unless there is a plan by the state to settle Buddhists in this area.
Many parents whose sons and daughters were conscripted by the LTTE are deeply concerned that while these innocents still languish in detention camps, top leaders and kidnappers are at large, many of them enjoying luxurious lifestyles. What I have mentioned are only a few examples of the injustices which have been heaped on the Tamil people of the north and east since the war ended. These are among the factors which are leading to the rising fears and suspicions which have been building during the past one and a half years.
These fears must be allayed and the Tamil community made to feel they are a part of this country. It is up to the Sinhalese people to make the Tamils understand they do not look on them as second class citizens, but are their equals in all respects. For this it becomes necessary to provide a political solution which can help the Tamil community to look after its own affairs in the regions. I am not talking of separation. I am emphasising the need for a devolution of power to the regions. Our party believes the 13th Amendment is a good starting point. It is a fact that there is a lack of trust between the Tamil-speaking community and the Sinhala community.
However it is the Sinhalese who are the majority in this country to convince the minorities especially those who have undergone the trauma and hardship of war that they are an integral part of this country. Therefore let us make a start by implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in its totality while continuing the search for a final solution within a stipulated time frame. - courtesy: The Sunday Leader -