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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Censorship, Disinformation & Murder of Journalists

Sri Lanka Diplomat & Truth

 P. Sampanthar
Singapore, 4 November 2000

It is an old adage that diplomats are honest men sent abroad to lie for their country. Recently (on 2 November 2000), Mr.P.M.Amza, the First Secretary, Sri Lanka High Commission wrote to the Straits Times in Singapore, about its editorial on Sri Lanka. In fairness to Mr.Amza, I give below the full text of his letter, titled 'Wrong impression created of Sri Lanka' together with my own comments:

" I refer to the editorial entitled "Uncertainty in Colombo'' (ST, Oct 25).

While the editorial analysed the political scene in Sri Lanka in a post-election setting, I wish to point out certain references which, we feel, created a wrong impression in the minds of readers.

There is a reference to Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, our former Prime Minister, who, the article states, was responsible for the introduction of Sinhala and what followed was Sri Lanka's long descent into self-destruction.

The Official Languages Act was introduced in 1956, before Mrs Bandaranaike was elected to office, in 1960.

Comment: Here, Mr.Hamza is somewhat economical with truth. He fails to mention that the Sinhala Only Act was introduced by Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranaike's husband, Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; and that on her husbands death in 1959,  Mrs.Bandaranaike campaigned and won the 1960 election on the basis of 'following her husband's policies'.

On the question of language, however, one may note that the Tamil Language Special Provision Act No 28 of 1958 provided for the use of the Tamil language as a medium of instruction in education, in any official correspondence for prescribed purposes in the North and East Province, and for examinations for entry to the public service.

Comment: The truth is that the Bandaranaike government directed that unless a Tamil public servant passed a proficiency test in Sinhala, his annual increment would be suspended and he would eventually be dismissed. Surely, Mr.Hamza will know of the case of Mr.Kodiswaran, whose  increment was stayed because he declined to sit for the Sinhala proficiency test. Kodiswaran later sued the government on the ground that Language Regulations and the Sinhala Only Act violated the anti discriminatory provisions of section 29 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. Mrs.Bandaranaike responded by abolishing appeals to the Privy Council and enacting a new Constitution which removed section 29 altogether!

The present Constitution recognises both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages and English as a link language.

Comment: Though both Sinhala and Tamil are 'official' languages, they do not have parity of status. Sinhala children are taught in the Sinhala medium and Tamil children in the Tamil medium. In practical terms, in the government service and for employment, Sinhala is the dominant language and the rule of the permanent Sinhala majority continues unabated.

On the question of "harassment against the Tamil minority'', I wish to draw the attention of readers to the fact that the Tamil Tiger Movement took a violent turn in the early 1980s. 

Comment: Mr.Hamza puts the "harassment against the Tamil minority'' within inverted commas. The record of Sri Lanka's gross and consistent violations of the fundamental rights of the Tamil people is now easily accessible on the internet - and is there for all to judge for themselves. I would like to remind Mr.Hamza of something which the eminent jurist, Paul Sieghart Q.C. from the International Commission of Jurists said in 1984: "Communal riots in which Tamils are killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes; they are beginning to become a pernicious habit." 

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been designated as a ruthless terrorist movement by the US State Department. It is also a proscribed movement in the United States, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka.

Comment: It is true that the LTTE has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US State Department. But, the US Courts have said that they are unable to rule on the question whether that designation is justified on the facts. Also, Mr.Hamza should have made it clear that India has not categorised the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. India has proscribed the LTTE on the ground that the demand for an independent Tamil state will threaten the territorial integrity of India.

The policy followed by successive governments has been to try to negotiate a political solution to the ethnic issue as violence is not a means to an end -- whatever the cause."

Comment: Mr.Hamza must know that the truth is otherwise. He must know of the political reality which US Professor Marshall Singer commented upon in 1995:

"One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement." 

Mr.Hamza will help to resolve the conflict if he first admits that the real culprit is a Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism which has asserted (and continues to assert) that Sri Lanka is the land of the Sinhala Buddhists - and it is this which has compelled the Tamils to resort to arms to defend themselves.



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