Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam
Shared in Sri Lanka
Boston Globe Editorial, 5 January 2005
World's response to the tsunami of Dec. 26 included a
heartening will to overcome petty differences for the sake of saving
lives and alleviating suffering. Implicit in the $2 billion of
relief aid pledged by governments, the outpouring of contributions
from private donors around the world, and the unprecendented
cooperative rescue operations mounted by the US and Indian navies is
a recognition of the common fragility of all humankind.
Yet there have been too many reminders of the persistence of ethnic
and political conflicts in the family of man, tragic habits that
were not washed away by the waves. In the northeast of Sri Lanka, in
the Tamil areas that have been racked by two decades of deadly
warfare between government troops and the rebel group known as the
Tamil Tigers, there continue to be hostile confrontations even over
the distribution of food aid.
A relief organization that cooperates with the Tigers, the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO, has been assisting not only
Tamil Hindus in the northeast but also Buddhist Sinhalese and Muslim
families. The central government, however, wants nothing to do with
the Tiger-linked TRO. In one community in northeastern Jaffna
Peninsula, Tamil peasants refused food aid from a contingent of Sri
Lankan Army soldiers, whom the locals had come to fear. According to
the peasants, the soldiers later returned with their faces covered,
entered a shed where local Tamil volunteers had stored food parcels,
and burned it down.
After visiting a Tamil town in the northeast that was destroyed by
the tidal wave, Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said
Monday that the TRO's "well-coordinated relief arrangements put in
place within so short a time are all really commendable."
The tsunami took away the lives of 12,000 Sri Lankan children,
Sinhalese as well as Tamil. Those bereft parents whom Bellamy saw
wandering along the beach and looking out to sea for a sign of their
lost children are no more or less grief-stricken for belonging to
one ethnic group or the other. The irreducible sameness of their
loss ought to illuminate the irrationality of the intercommunal
enmity that seems to have survived the wave.
The lesson that Sri Lanka's leaders should draw is that there can be
no military solution to the conflict with minority Tamils who have
suffered from discrimination and repression at the hands of
successive governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. Before
the current tenuous ceasefire expires, the government should
negotiate a permanent peace agreement founded upon Tamil local
autonomy in a confederated Sri Lanka. It is enough that Tamil and
Sinhalese parents have lost children to the sea. No more of their
children should be lost to a pointless war.
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