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Who will help the Tamils?
New Statesman, London, Editorial
Sri Lanka is burning again. Several hundred Tamils have been killed in the past week, and at least 20,000 have been made homeless. Now the Sri Lankan government says that it is creating an emergency committee to provide food and shelter for the Tamil refugees. The Tamils can be forgiven if they do not show much gratitude for this act of charity, for this week's horrific violence, in which Sinhalese lynch mobs roamed the streets of Colombo, attacking anyone who happened to be a Tamil, is the direct fault of the Sri Lanka government itself.
For years, leading Sinhalese politicians have encouraged their fellow Sinhalese to see the minority Tamils as second-class citizens. Matching action with words, they have introduced laws and regulations which have made it almost impossible for the Tamils to find decent education or employment. They have also supervised a programme of colonisation under which Tamil farmland has been handed over to the Sinhalese.
"Law and Order" was one of President Jayawardene's main slogans when he was elected in 1977. Yet there is neither law nor order in Sri Lanka; Jayawardene himself has seen to that. Under the Public Security Act, the police and army are allowed to bury or cremate dead bodies without any need for an inquest or post mortem. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, people can be detained for up to 18 months without trial or explanation. Torture has become a normal part of police procedure, an Amnesty International's report this month showed.
In Britain there may be a tendency to view the violence in Sri Lanka as part of some unfathomable feud in a faraway country of which we know nothing. Yet Britain is inescapably
involved. ( emphasis mine - - S.S.) It was Britain, as the colonial power, which brought Indian Tamils to Ceylon to work the tea estates. It was Britain which encouraged the indigenous Tamils to help with the running of the colonial bureaucracy. When Britain departed. in 1948, the Sinhalese took over the country and began to exact their revenge. The plantation Tamils were stripped of their citizenship, and the indigenous Tamils were stripped of their jobs.
Even today, Britain's connections with Sri Lanka are close Sri Lanka's main export, tea, is still controlled by the British companies who set the price. Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil areas is being helped by a huge irrigation scheme. partly paid for with British money. Certainly the Tamils themselves consider that Britain has some responsibility fir their fate. Is
too much to hope that the British government may, at last, seek to make amends'? In October, President Jayawardene will pay an official visit to London. He should be told that Britain is no longer prepared to bankroll a man who is presiding over a campaign of near-genocide against part of his population.