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TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Closure & Siege
Editorial, Oru Paper , 16 March 2007
Sri Lankan far right has been (as always) the best indicator of Government of Sri Lanka's (GOSL) true intentions. As part of the current regime it is quite clear headed and influential regarding state policy making, now more than ever before.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU, Pure Sinhala National Heritage Party in Sinhalese) is the youngest political party in Sri Lanka. JHU recently joined Mr Rajapakse's government and Champika Ranawake is a JHU minister. When asked about his view of "liberating Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE" Minister Champika Ranawake recommended that the Sri Lanka military be left alone to do this job as they see fit, and the Tamils should be made to move from LTTE controlled areas into GOSL controlled areas as an important part of this `liberation'. The East was part of the ancient glorious Sinhalese Kingdom before the European colonialists arrived, he further said.
Most of us among the Tamil expatriate community know what this "liberation" of Tamils means in political terms. Following the capture of Vakarai in February 2007 in the East, Colombo and international media have been predicting a "rehabilitation and massive economic development of the East" in the near future. What do they really mean by "rehabilitation and economic development"?
Tamils who were forced to move out of Vakarai and Sampur due to the GOSL's 'scorched earth' military operations of January 2007 are eagerly waiting to go back to their own lands. Few of those who were allowed to go back to their villages report a life under under severe military restrictions especially a little without any free movement. In other words Vakarai and Sampur have been turned into another "high security zone".
What is the connection between curtailing freedom of movement and rehabilitation & economic development?
Curtailing freedom of movement of Tamils has been a central feature of GOSL oppression during the last two decades, "Terrorism" has always served as a good excuse for this premeditated policy. The 1980's, especially the period since 1986, saw a gradual institutionalisation of this measure, for which the euphemistic term "security zone" was introduced. Town centres and villages were closed and then isolated without warnings. Passes, permits etc issued by the military were required for any movement or economic activity.
In 1996, after the capture of Jaffna peninsula, the notorious "high security zone" was introduced, cutting Tamil towns and villages from each other. The fertile Valikamam area of Jaffna was divided into various zones by mounds of rubble made of destroyed houses and earth. These mounds were 6 feet high with land mines and with few exit/entry points between them. All these points were controlled by the military with strict entry and exit permits. For example, in order to visit a relative few hundred meters away on the other side of the mound, one must have to go through a specific exit point few miles away and then come back few miles on the other side. One third of Valikamam was taken over by the military as part of this high security zone and the original inhabitants were moved out. Most of them are still living in refugee camps without freedom of movement.
Thus, step by step, Tamils have been dispossessed and surrounded by military camps, by-pass roads and checkpoints, squeezed into sealed-off enclaves and refugee camps. Tamil towns are besieged by tanks and armed vehicles blocking all access roads. Tamil villages too, are surrounded by road blocks, preventing the movement of vehicles in and out.
The human catastrophe is not hard to imagine: any movement outside your enclave becomes a tedious project, to say the least: going to school in a neighbouring town, moving patients or medical staff, not to mention "luxuries" like visiting friends or family.
But the economic side is just as essential. While travelling hundred of miles in the Sinhala South is free, Sri Lanka is putting Tamil towns and villages individually under siege. In the Northeast goods can be transported only using a 'back-to-back system' in which a truck goes to a certain location where goods are unloaded to another awaiting truck, which then carries the merchandise further. Imagine doing business (or just providing for a village) under such circumstances. There are reports of big price differences between towns: one town is flooded with cheap vegetables, in the other town vegetables are rare and expensive.
At present, this policy seems to have been, perfected as a tool of GOSL's psychological warfare. This has been further institutionalised by long-term bureaucracy: a permit system, considerably worse than the "pass laws" imposed on blacks in Apartheid South Africa.
So the main measure to subjugate Tamils is not only war, but closure and siege thus economic strangulation too.
Having pushed the Tamils living in their homeland out of its economic sphere, GOSL is now institutionalising their long-term seal-off in besieged enclaves by a system of "high security zones". It counts on the world community "the donor states" to finance the intentionally impoverished people through its rehabilitation ministry and Non Governmental Organisations to live in these isolated open prisons.
The resultant damage to the Tamils as a nation is obvious. Nation building often means political unification of territory: think of Italy or Germany. Sri Lanka is imposing on the Tamils the very reversed process, hoping to reduce them into numerous separate groups with no collective interests, consciousness and institutions thus breaking their will and capacity to resist. This is what the GOSL and the international community implies by "rehabilitation and massive economic development".