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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam > International Seminar on Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka - an effort towards peace > Global Reaction to Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka - N. Vijayasingam
International Seminar on Ethnic Conflict
in Sri Lanka
The Island of Sri Lanka is the historical homeland of two ancient civilisations, of two distinct ethno-national formations with different cultures, languages, territories and histories. The Island was ruled by Sinhalese and Tamil Kings at times. It was the British colonial rule after 1815 which imposed a unified administration with centralised institutions. The conflict in the Island began once the British left in 1948 and the Sinhalese being the majority took over and paid scant respect for the minority Tamil aspirations. The Sri Lankan government has sought International assistance to crush Tamil aspirations. It has become necessary to address our mind to the global reaction to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka beginning with our closest neighbour India.
The present policy of the Indian Government of not supporting the Tigers and assisting the Sri Lanka government in many ways, has several reasons. Mainly it is because all its neighbours, Nepal in the north, Burma in the east, Pakistan in the west, are all not friendly towards India compared to their friendliness and support to China. Moreover China’s policy towards India although not antagonistic is not friendly and China views India with suspicion. In this diplomatic context India is going out of its way to have at least Sri Lanka its closest neighbour in the South as a close friend even though it would mean India closing its eyes to the human rights abuse of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
China continues to be unconcerned of the suppression of democracy in Burma, Maoists attempts to capture power in Nepal and Pakistan’s dictatorship. In the case of Sri Lanka, China although conscious of the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of the Tamils does not comment but continues to assist the government. This is merely China’s self interest.
One other reason for India’s present attitude is that it has not forgotten the IPKF’s defeat in the hands of the Tigers and the death in Sri Lanka of over 1,200 Indian army men. There is not even a simple memorial anywhere in Sri Lanka to remember the Indians killed.
India is not going to change its present policy in a hurry even though it acknowledges the genocidal situation in Sri Lanka. In this context we (the Tamils of Sri Lanka) should continue to pressurize India to be our “natural ally” in our struggle against human rights abuses and denial of our basic freedom. The Indira Gandhi days should have to come back again and it all depends on the pressure we the Tamils can exert and the world-wide opinion we can generate. The positive voice of the Indian Tamils must be heard in New Delhi. Needless to say these have to be worked out carefully. China, Pakistan and Burma’s open support to Sri Lanka under the guise of fighting terrorism has to be exposed.
EU (European Union) Countries Reaction to Sri Lankan Civil War:
International relations especially in the West have much to do with “wining and dining” in diplomatic parties. The line of thinking most often germinates at dinner parties. The Sri Lankan government is doing very much in this respect and the Tamil side is unfortunately no match to the Sri Lanka government.
I give below a copy of a confidential letter written by the Acting Head of Delegation (Ambassador) at New Delhi to the EU Headquarters in Brussels on 9th June 1987 on the leakage of a report written by me to the European Union under the caption “Bloody April in Sri Lanka” when I was Advisor to the EU Embassy.
As regards the above I wish to place on record that all my life I was only guided by truth and my conscience, unafraid of threats.
UK talks of fostering global democracy. It says that the moral impulse is to bring freedom even by military means. Mr Miliband the Foreign Secretary has called for popular support for “freedom movements” in various regions such as Burma and Kenya but has remained silent in respect of Sri Lanka. The reason obviously is to keep Sri Lankan government happy in view of UK’s National Interest. It is a tragedy that the UK and various other EU countries do continue to support various Asian, African and South American Dictatorships including Sri Lanka against Freedom Movements of oppressed people in order to obtain their political support in International Forums and economic co-operation with such governments. The House of Commons all party committee which addressed the Tamil issue should not fade away and we should maintain the momentum.
At the time of writing Germany is proposing to the European Union the withdrawal of the General System of Preferences concessions from Sri Lanka and the slashing of development co-operation unless the government stops the war and seeks a political solution to the ethnic conflict. A European Union delegation is to visit Sri Lanka shortly to take stock of the situation in the country and urge the Government to seek a political solution and withdraw from the war. The German Minister for Economic Operations has said that the International Community must influence both parties to the conflict to seek a political solution and withdraw from the war.
This is the time for various Tamil organisations to push hard for the implementation of these decisions by the German government and more so in the context that Sri Lanka is toying with the intention of sending a high level delegation to the EU to stall these decisions.
A Message to the International Community on Freedom Fighters, Terrorists, Mercenaries and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces:
The “Freedom Fighters” of the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the armed conflict was a creation due to over half a century of Sinhala majority oppression of the Tamils. All non violent democratic protests by the minority Tamils of Sri Lanka were put down by the majority Sinhalese by force of the armed forces. Thousands of Tamil non violent Gandhian protesters were killed, maimed and burnt by the majority Sinhalese Community with both the police and the armed forces not taking any action.
Nearly the entirety of the armed forces and the police are from the Sinhala community. Hundreds of Tamil houses and business establishments all over Sri Lanka were looted and burnt over the years with no action being taken by the Government.
The traditional homeland of the Tamils which is the North and East of Sri Lanka was systematically colonised by Sinhala settlers making Tamil majority areas into Sinhala majority areas.
Seeing peaceful Gandhian protests from 1948 to 1983 becoming meaningless the Tamils thereafter took to arms to protest and defend themselves. The Sri Lankan ethnic conflict thus changed into an armed insurgency after July 1983.
This in fact suited the Sri Lankan government which baptised “Tamil freedom fighters” and protesters as “Terrorists”. Sri Lankan government began to blow its own trumpet to the International Community that they were fighting International Terrorism and needed their help to eradicate them.
The situation in Sri Lanka today is that there is “State Terrorism” carrying out an all out massacre of the Tamil Freedom Fighters who are supported by the vast majority of Tamils.
The slogan that terrorism in Sri Lanka has to be eliminated in reality means Tamils who want to assert, their human rights safeguarded need to be eliminated.
The Sri Lankan State is actively aided in their killing sprees by a couple of Tamil Agents (Mercenaries) opposed to the Tamil Freedom Fighters whose numbers would be less than five per cent of the Tamil population.
Killings of Tamils all over the island, abductions, bombing of Tamil areas and killing innocent civilians have all become daily occurrences. Daily casualty figures are as bad as Iraq.
The only difference is that the Western media carries the Iraq figures whereas the Sri Lankan figures are hardly given any publicity by the media. Moreover the armed forces are getting themselves involved in politics from which they are prohibited by regulations. Army commanders are giving statements on whether it should be a Unitary or Federal System of government for Sri Lanka!
Political involvement and political meddling by the armed forces would it is feared end up in a military coup in Sri Lanka. This will bring to an end whatever little democracy that is left in the country.
This is not all the rot. In Sri Lanka soon after independence men who wanted power went into politics. Now the people who want to make money are switching into politics and it has become very profitable. Corruption is rampant all over Sri Lanka. Tremendous amounts of international assistance started to flow into Sri Lanka after the “Tsunami” disaster. Everyone knows that a large portion of it fell into the hands of the corrupt administration. Nothing was done to stop this inhuman corruption. Millions had been plundered.
The London based think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) which has been promised a sub office in Colombo by the Sri Lankan government had very recently in its imagination spotlighted “Tigers – al Quaeda Business Links”. It has also been regularly giving the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr Mangala Samaraweera and later Mr Rohita Bogollagama adequate opportunities to express their propaganda. The IISS has so far refused to accept “Tamil Armed Resistance Movement” as a “Freedom Movement”. Their latest publication “Military Balance 2008” is inimical to Tamil interests in Sri Lanka.
The International Community should realise that division amongst them would be exploited and they should speak with one voice to stop the Sri Lankan government falling into a no return position of a “failed corrupt state”.
All people of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese Tamils and Muslims should ensure that under no circumstances are the armed forces given an opportunity to take over the governance of the country. That would be worse than jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Role of the United States:
It is now very clear that the American Government in order to safeguard its own political and economic self-interests has banned the Tigers and other welfare organizations of the Tamils that were working in Tiger controlled territories in Sri Lanka. This is merely to have Sri Lanka as their supporter in all political and economical International Forums including the U.N. Pity President Bush did not look at Sri Lanka the same way he had looked at similar disputes in East Timor, Kosovo and Kenya. He had also turned a blind eye to the thousands of Tamils who are being killed, maimed, abducted and ransoms obtained.
It has now become necessary for the Tamils resident in the United States, Canada and the rest of the world to carry out a campaign, especially pressurizing the Americans not to differentiate in their attitude towards Sri Lanka.
If the Kenyan President could be asked by the U.S. President to share power with the minorities in Kenya and bring the war to an end, why not make the same request to the Sri Lankan President who had opted “for a war to the finish” irrespective of the thousands who are dying.
There is no doubt that President Rajapakse also believes that the Tamils, without International backing, their bargaining power for power-sharing would be diluted and any demand for meeting their aspirations could be safely dropped.
The Post 9/11 anti-terrorism climate continues to provide a convenient cover allowing the Sri Lankan state to continue to hoodwink the International Community. In this context the only silver lining is that both the democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had expressed sympathetic views on the Tamil struggles for power sharing.
The Tamil Diaspora has at this juncture a very big responsibility of mobilizing and standing together without divisions and quarrels among themselves and publicising to the majority population and all others in the Countries they are now settled the genocide situation in Sri Lanka. They should organize it in such a way that the Sri Lankan conflict becomes a subject of discussion at the dinner tables of people and the present situation appears in the local press without publishing only Sri Lankan Government propaganda.
Seminars and conferences as the one organized here are very good, but it would have been better if a considerable part of the audience today would have been the white and other coloured people of the U.K.
We should also not unwittingly assist the Sri Lankan Government to become economically strong to wage war against the Tamils. Recently there was a meeting, held in London, calling upon the Tamil people to boycott Sri Lankan Airlines Travel. I do not see any follow-up action. Just imagine a situation of a considerable section of the Tamil Diaspora boycotting Sri Lankan Airlines!!
Sri Lanka needs a power-sharing constitution between the Tamils, Sinhalese and other minority groups. It should protect basic civil liberties with Press freedom and an independent Judiciary. In 2005, the Supreme Court, making a mockery of its independence by acceding to Sinhalese extremist sentiments, derailed an Internationally Sanctioned Tsunami-aid deal P-TOMS that had the potential to bring the warring communities together.
Another mockery to the entire scenario was the declaration by the President at the sixtieth Independence Day (04-02-2008) that modern Sri Lanka as an “example to the World”. Over two thousand people have died due to the war during the two years of the present Presidents regime came into power and there is no doubt all of them would on hearing these utterances of the President turned in their graves.
The concluding paragraph of my book “Fighting Discrimination in Sri Lanka 1950-2002" reads as follows:
After having written the above six years back, and having visited Sri Lanka two months back, how much I would have loved to agree with the President’s statement that “Sri Lanka is an example to the world”? Today I bow down in shame, with tears for the dead and suffering in our Country!! It is most unfortunate that the Sri Lankan Government does not have the “wisdom and the will” to make “Sri Lanka an example to the World”.