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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia > Let my people go
|International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996
LET MY PEOPLE GO
Rev. Dr. S.J. Emmauel
1. Witness to Truth for Peace in Sri Lanka
I am happy to participate and to make a personal appeal on behalf of my people at this Conference. I stand here before you, neither as a politician nor as a political scientist, not even as a representative of any political group or movement in Sri Lanka, but solely as a Tamil Catholic Priest from the North of Sri Lanka. From 1956 onwards, I have been a keen observer of the political events in our country. A good fifteen years of my priestly life has been spent at Ampitiya at educating hundreds of Catholic priests - Sinhalese and Tamils - for the Church in Sri Lanka. Since 1986 I have had the privilege of being close to my suffering people.
Presently, as a religious leader moving along with my people in their search for self-respect and freedom, and serving them in my Christian way in their agonies of the war, my ideal for participation in the struggle and service is Jesus Christ. He, who came to liberate mankind from the slaveries of sin and death and offer them the freedom and the dignity of the children of God, has solemnly declared that Truth will make us free. Hence our commitment to Truth.
He has also taught in his Sermon on the Mount that Blessed are the Peace Makers, and by the supreme sacrifice of his life, He established Himself as the Peace-Maker par excellence for the whole humanity. Hence our commitment to Peace-making.
In attempting to articulate my thoughts here on the theme of this Conference, I can only give witness to Truth on behalf of the many millions of Sri Lankans who are thirsting for Peace and Reconciliation. At a point in history, when my people are subject to immense hardships, made to carry unbearable burdens for being Tamil and struggling to survive an inhuman war, paradoxically termed as a "War for Peace", I am happy to serve them with my voice for Truth, Justice and Peace.
By reason of my provenience and profession, I prefer to give my Christian witness to some of the salient Truths about the contextual realities I am called to experience those truths from within the society. And they are so indispensable for finding a lasting Peace in the country. But they are unfortunately turned and twisted by unscrupulous politicians and selfish media personnel for their selfish motives.
2. We are Genuinely Thirsting for a Lasting Peace
A blatant lie has been let loose by some pseudo-lovers of Peace that the Tamils living in the North are against Peace. It has been the fashion of some Sri Lankans living outside the war zones to speak of themselves as the genuine lovers of Peace and to cast doubts and even suspicion, on the peace-motives of those living in the North and East. Some have even gone to the extent of suspecting the very people suffering and dying in war as lovers of war and have even posed the question - Are the Tamils of the North and East for Peace?! Let it be clearly known to the world, and I say it with all the strength of my conviction, that none in Sri Lanka could thirst for Peace as much as we Tamils who are still surviving in the North and East do.
And the reason why we are so strongly motivated for peace, is not for any material gain of our prospective investments in a peaceful Sri Lanka, as may be wished for by some local and foreign agents. Nor are we so motivated merely by a desire for development and improvement of the quality of our life in Sri Lanka. We want Peace because we are dying in War. We want Peace because we have lost all our dear and near ones in this senseless war. We want Peace because War is suffocating us into extinction. We want Peace because that alone is the natural space for human life with dignity and self-respect. We want Peace because it is our existential right.
The proud proclamation that only the Government was committed to Peace and that the LTTE was not, is not tenable. The break-down of Peace-talks on the 19th. of April 1995, has been often made out to be entirely due to the intransigence of the LTTE's and its non-commitment to Peace. To those who have read through the letters exchanged between the partners to the conflict, and observed closely the slow progress made by the talks, it was clear that the LTTE could not be pressurized to discuss a long-term political package when the people were being pushed more and more to the borders of survival by the inhuman economic embargo on the basic necessities of life. The evident question on the minds of the people during the talks was about the good faith of a Government that was promising bold political changes in favour of a solution of the Tamil problem but unable to lift the inhuman ban on such simple items like confectionaries, white cloth, tyre-tubes and fuel. The partial lifting of the economic ban on these items for a few months and the re-imposition of it on the very day of the break-down of talks confirmed the suspicion of the people about the bona fides of the Government.
3. The Self-Contradictory Option of A War For Peace
After having come to power on the promise of "Peace and No More War" and unable to keep up even the gazetted assurances given to the Tamil people related to their basic needs for survival, the Government once again, after a brief interval of three months, returned to a total throttling of the people with its inhuman and unreasonable economic embargo. A real effort for Peace should have been an unconditional lifting of the embargo, restoring the basic human needs of the population and then talking about a political settlement of the long-standing national problems. But the Government appeared to be interested in holding a military threat over the heads of the Tamil population and force down on the Tamils the Government's own political solution. This is totally unacceptable to the Tamils.
In order to placate the thousands of Tamils who voted for the Peace-proclamations of the Government and to cover up its militaristic agenda before the international community, a more insidious and self-contradictory option was made by the Government and was displayed to the world as a new discovery in the long history of humanity - War for Peace!
Her Excellency the President, has been bending backwards trying her best to justify the military operations as part of a war that she is forced to wage because of her sincere search for Peace. The declared intentions of this War for Peace were very attractively formulated to defend the escalation of War and to deceive the donor countries into giving aid for more sophisticated ammunitions. Without revealing the exact reasons for the break-down of Peace-talks and resumption of hostilities, it was declared as
1. A War thrust on the Government by the LTTE.
2. A War directed not against the Tamils but against the LTTE
3. A War to liberate the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE
4. A War to annihilate or weaken the LTTE
5. A War to force the LTTE to the negotiating table.
But the military occupation of Jaffna, the hoisting of the Lion Flag over a ghost town, the Riviresa II Operation to trap the people into the Army command, the denial of food to those who crossed over to Wanni in the Riviresa II Operation - all these disprove the intentions of the War for Peace and reveal the hidden agenda of the Government for a subjugation of the Tamils under a military rule.
4. The Lies Shrouding the Option and its Declared Intentions
A self-contradictory objective of achieving Peace through War can only be sustained by falsehoods. And the subsequent escalation of war by the Government under the pretext of reaching out for Peace has progressively revealed the hidden intentions of the Governments. We mention a few to illustrate our point.
4.1 Announcing non-events
The military offensive "Leap Forward" was launched in its first phase on the early hours of July 9th. 1995. Although the Government and its media long after its inception announced a curfew over Jaffna and spoke of helicopters having dropped handbills warning the civilians to take refuge in kovils and churches, no such things ever happened. No helicopter ever flew over Jaffna on the 8th. of July and no handbill was dropped anywhere over the Jaffna Peninsula. This talk about a warning to the public was a total lie and hundreds of thousands of people who woke up that night to flee away from the army shelling bear witness to this.
4.2 Government's Fury at Unfavorable Truths
The unwillingness on the part of the Government and its media to believe the truth of what was happening in the war zone is incredible. With regard to an incident where a Puccara aircraft dropped more than six bombs on a crowd of refugees in the precincts of St.Peter and Paul Church at Navaly and where more than 120 died and about 200 badly wounded, the Government was trying to get away from blame first by saying that it was the work of the LTTE. When that failed it started accusing those who passed the truth to the international community. It is indeed a shame for the Government to rely entirely on its military report and overlook the reports of direct and credible witnesses of the Church and the ICRC. The burst of fury on the part of the Government against the reports of the ICRC, the Church and the BBC showed beyond doubt how far it is hostile to truths not in its favour.
4.3 Immorality of Conducting Military Operations Behind Closed-Doors
Ever since the struggle turned into a war in the North and East, there has been a muzzling of the Truth by the Media which were largely under the control of the Government. This became a frequent censorship of the press as well as prevention of foreign diplomats and journalists to the war-zones. But this has been further tightened to become a semi-permanent censorship on all media and a prevention of all journalists - local and foreign - to the North. As a result the media are made either to echo like parrots the military tailored reports or to speculate at random from their air-conditioned offices about the events in the war-zones. Unlike the media personnel of other countries who risk a lot to venture into war zones and enrich themselves with objective reports, most of the local media personnel have come to accept passively the reports of the military as the truth. In other words, under the guise of a danger to security arrangements, the Military enjoys a free hand to conduct this war, behind tightly closed doors. Hence the government not only abuses its power in muzzling the truth but also connives with the atrocities committed by the Army.
By conducting this war behind closed doors, the Government was manipulating factual truths to muster support for the war locally and internationally and to win cheap ammunitions from abroad. But we, who are caught in the thick of war and experience the horrors from day to day, and consider our survival as a continuous miracle, cannot be fooled for ever.
4.4 The Historic Exodus caused by the Military Occupation
Having had a bitter experience of the presence and activities of the Sri Lankan Army on their soil for decades and a fearful mind fraught with unforgettable lessons of death, destruction, loot, rape, bribery etc. the population of Jaffna made more dense by waves of displacements as a result of previous military operations, was now treated with a much more frightening and fatal experience. For almost two weeks the aerial, naval and land operations of Riviresa I thundered and shuddered and the people trembled and shivered. The whole Peninsula was vibrating day and night with the tremors of the aerial bombs and artillery shells which were directed to scare and drive away the people from the approaching State Forces. How could the population survive such an attack and wait for their " military liberators" to arrive?
On the 30th. of October 1995, the warning was made and it was a necessary one: "The State Forces are approaching the town of Jaffna and the LTTE will be fighting tooth and nail to defend it. It is advisable to move to safer areas of Thenmaraadchi.." it said. This was enough to move a whole population into a panic-stricken exodus. There were no forcing or threats from the LTTE as made out by mischievous pro-government persons living far away from the North. Nor is there any truth in their claims that it was the State /forces which advised the people to move away from Jaffna for safety and security. When there is a fatal threat to life, it is the duty of any responsible leadership to give the warning with clarity and sternness and even help people to move out of the danger zone. And this was done by the LTTE.
It is true that this exodus for safety caused much hardships, especially for the old and the sick and deprived many of their belongings. But what was the alternative left to the people other than fleeing away from bombs and shells?
Half a million citizens of Sri Lanka, born and bred on that God-given sacred soil of the Jaffna Peninsula, which they loved as their motherland, cultivated and brought forth fruits for the whole island for many generations - this homeland adorned with beautiful houses and gardens and cultivations - all fruits of the labors of generations of Tamils - had to be abandoned in one night to an Army advancing to conquer and devastate that sacred city of Jaffna and hoist a Lion Flag on it. Generations of Tamils cannot forget this shameful and imperialistic act of the Sri Lankan Government.
Thousands of senior citizens who have served the Government by their dedicated services for many decades, were on the road, literally shivering and starving for days till they found another shelter. Mothers with their babies in hands crying for food were looking up to the dark clouds for relief. Boys and girls, who have been hard hit for decades by unjust discriminations with regard to their studies, who were literally burning bottles of costly kerosene oil to study hard and assure some success for their future, were now humiliated and chased away from their motherland - to carry not their books, but the old and the sick on their bicycles to safer places.
Even these cries of this half a million people wandering for safety did not move the hearts of the Government. Beaten to shame by the capture of an empty city, it reacted angrily even to the magnanimous appeal made by the UN Secretary General for aid to the displaced victims. Disturbed by the fact that the exodus was internationalizing the Tamil problem, it was splitting hairs over the numbers and questioning whether they were refugees or displaced people. It was questioning the figures supplied by the NGOs and Government Agents and making its own logic without any statistical data, thus refusing to allow relief measures needed by the victims. Thanks to the efforts of all the NGOs - foreign and local - which rushed food and shelter and help survive a majority of these.
4.5 Trapping the owners to occupy their houses
After six months the Forces launch another military operation Riviresa II on the displaced population. This time the intention was declared to be again the liberation of the people from the clutches of the LTTE. But the truth of what happened or how it happened has not been told. The State-media, which gave no pictorial publicity to the pathetic exodus of half a million people was now publishing coloured photographs of returning refugees. Where was this media when the people fled in fear and sought shelter on the roads and struggled for survival?
The Forces were advancing from the North into Thenmaradchy. Thousands fled further South to cross over Kilali and go to Wanni. But the aerial bombing at Kilali destroying boats killing many civilians, left no choice for the people. Instead of continuing a very hard life in their displacements in Thenmaradchi, they preferred to move into their own broken homes. Now when the Government wanted to take this return to Jaffna as a military victory, the figures given by the Government swell to great heights making us all wonder whether an exiled population has doubled in size!
With regard to the return of the displaced people to the Jaffna Peninsula, it must be said in all fairness, that a people having lived for about six months under trying conditions of food, clothing and shelter, naturally grabbed the first chance to return to their homes, even if they had been badly damaged and robbed. They were not running into the arms of their lovers. But into their natural habitat even if it had been raped by the presence of an army of occupation.
5. Treating the Tamil Problem as Terrorism is Denying to the Tamils their Right of Peace
In the above perspective, the negligence of the successive Governments in Sri Lanka, in not finding a solution to the problems of the Tamils, in denying the basic rights of the Tamils, in escalating the Tamil struggle from its non-violent and democratic stages to become a war of death and destruction - all these amount to denying to the Tamils their very existential right to have Peace.
Everyone admits that the Government has a right to rectify its international image that has been tarnished by the series of anti-Tamil riots and the holocaust of 1983. But this is done unfortunately at the expense of the Tamils and their cause for Truth and Justice. In exaggerating the consequences of a guerrilla warfare, the Government may succeed in justifying before the world all its military actions against the Tamils, even those which easily qualify to be none other than state-terrorism. But the cumulative effect of all these on the world has been to project a wrong image of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as terrorists and war-lovers.
6 Winning the Hearts and Minds of a People by the "Back-Door"
Winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils has been an oft repeated slogan of the Government in its efforts to resolve the ethnic crisis. We Tamils are understandably suspicious of this goal and we are proved to be more than right by the events taking place in the North. It is the undeclared intention of all politicians of the world to win the hearts and minds of their constituencies. But when a Government goes for it, the motives are suspect. It does not require much intelligence from a wife to understand the hidden agenda of a cruel husband when he suddenly turns round to shower some gifts and privileges.
After denying foreign aid for any development of the North and East for many decades, and even denying the basics for life by an inhuman economic embargo for over five years, suddenly relief and rehabilitation financed by some benevolent countries are rushed to the North. And a people pushed to the ground by starvation and dearth of essential items for survival, quite naturally grab this little aid with sigh of relief. But this should not be interpreted as opting to live under an army-rule.
And as it stands today, it is the Army that is given this non-enviable task of winning the hearts and minds of a war-weary people languishing on the borders of existence. A few smiles and some nice words in Tamil from a Sinhala army may sound sweet and enticing for a few days. And vice versa, a grateful response from the Tamil residents for sparing their lives from their weapons may be satisfying to the weary soldier. But this sudden relationship created by force of events and hidden agenda cannot last. A soldier is a combatant. And a Sri Lankan soldier has been selected, trained and commissioned to be an anti-Tamil combatant. He cannot overnight become the angel of Peace in the war-torn areas. When the very architects and agents of war who for decades have bombed and killed and destroyed and instilled only fatal horror into the hearts and minds of the Tamil people turn over-night into smiling friends and benevolent donors of gifts, it is but sound common sense to raise suspicions about their hidden intentions.
Can a military that was recruited, trained commissioned to fight and kill turn out to be peace-makers? And this explains clearly the meaning the Government is giving to its declared intention of the "War for Peace". It is not a preparatory phase before a political settlement nor a military way of imposing on the heads of an unwilling people a political solution prepared, discussed and defined by the will of the majority. It is a pure military solution in which the fighting is suspended and the army takes over the governance of the people. We asked for our rights and a peaceful environment to live and the government generously offers us an option between military action and military governance!
7. Peace as the Fruit of Truth and Justice
If peace is conceived as the outcome of doing justice to the truth of realities, then all genuine lovers of peace must at all cost shun untruth and injustice. Pope John Paul has called upon the world in one of his messages for World Day of Peace : If you want Peace, work for Justice. All are lovers of Peace, but few are the workers for Peace. All dislike war and condemn violence, but few are engaged in removing the root causes of war and violence. Paying lip service to Peace, Justice and Truth is not enough. In fact, those who stop with such lip service are hypocrites. And even religious leaders are not exempt from such hypocrisy.
In this context of a prolonged war and violence, the religious leaders of the country have a primary obligation in assuring the indispensable ingredients for true Peace, namely, Truth and Justice. It is they who have to interpret their religious teachings in the context of the present day realities. It is they who have to reads the signs of the times and interpret them in service to the happiness. especially of the suffering mankind. Thus they are called to take the lead even at the cost of their lives in exposing the historical and contextual truths concerning the ethnic situation and stand up for Truth and Justice.
The four great religions in Sri Lanka should support and uphold these values of Truth and Justice which are indispensable ingredients for Peace. Many of our religious leaders see the evil, but stop with mere condemnation of it. They do not go to the root causes such as injustices and discriminations. They do not act courageously enough to denounce and protest against those injustices and discriminations. Just to cite a recent example - a venerable and educated monk in an interview with the Press, stated that Sri Lanka was a Sinhala-Buddhist country and that the Tamil problem should be settled by Minister in charge of the war and that he should be given all powers to do it! Such religious leaders can only lead the country to ruin. .
8. Prospects for a Dialogue for Peace
We believe in a Dialogue and not in a war or violence as the way to Peace. Allow me to quote what Pope John Paul II said in one of his Messages for the World Day of Peace. "Dialogue is the Way to Peace and this Peace presupposes the search for what is true".
But what is the commitment of the Sri Lankan Government to Truth? Can an active hiding of the Truth and a closing of the access to Truth be in the interest of Peace?
The Press Censorship, the prevention of foreign diplomats or journalists into war zones, the disabling of the NGOs working for the people, the continued economic embargo on the people, and the military occupation of the Jaffna Peninsula - all these unfortunately point to a military approach by the Government. Although a two-pronged approach was earlier proclaimed as the Government's approach, the recent events have clearly shown the option for a military approach.. It refuses to see the Tamil problem as the root cause of the present war. It labels the Tamil problem as pure terrorism, and goes ahead with its war.
The attitude of the Government to relief and rehabilitation work done by the NGOs in the Wanni district reveals a further aspect of the hidden agenda of the Government. The NGOs which shifted their offices into Vadamaradchi and Thenmaradchi and Wanni were trying to respond to the crying needs of the people. But many of them were in many ways handicapped or even prevented, from having all the necessary apparatus for communication and freedom of moving their aid from the South to the people in need.
After the military victory over the ghost-town of Jaffna and getting the people trapped in the Peninsula, the Government is at present making available some basic needs probably bought with foreign aid as a fore-runner to imposing its own political solution on the people. In short, it intends to eliminate or weaken any leadership among the people and have its own way of enslaving the people by back-door gifts. Probably with the hope of settling the Tamil problem just by some enticing gifts to an enslaved population, it is turning a deaf-ear to the more serious international appeals for Peace-talks and international mediation.
9. Conclusion: An Appeal for Truth and Justice
From the Capital of another peace-loving continent, let me make an appeal on behalf of my people for Peace. Not as a political leader, but as a religious leader from among the people caught in the war and thirsting for Peace, in the name of a people held incommunicado for many years from the rest of the world, in the name of a people struggling to survive and resist a genocidal extinction - without sufficient food, medicine, transport, communication, in the name of the thousands of youth who have sacrificed their lives for a noble cause of freedom and dignity, truth and justice, in the name of future generations of all Sri Lankans, I appeal both to the Sri Lankan Government as well as to the de facto leadership of the Tamils. I also appeal to all the other political parties in Sri Lanka - be they Sinhala or Tamil -
1) not to play politics with the lives of a people
2) to halt immediately this senseless "war for peace"
3) to lilet the economic ban to the North
4) to lift all media-censorship and allow journalists and other interested people to visit the war-torn areas and to be open to the truth of historical and contextual realities
5) to create military conditions conducive to peace-talks
5) to return as soon as possible to the negotiating table
6) to invite the assistance of some neutral but friendly governments or governmental organizations to help in the peace-talks.
I am standing here as a man of God in service to a suffering mankind. I have hope in the goodness of God and of men. From amidst the deafening sounds of thousands of bombs and shells falling on our soil and consuming sacred lives, I cry out with Moses of old, "Let my people go from this slavery to freedom"