Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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East Timor & Tamil Eelam

Eelam Tamils felicitate National Leader of the East Timorese resistance and future head of state of  liberated East Timor, Xanana Gusmao in Melbourne on 11 October 1999
[see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Timor ]

At a  reception in Melbourne at the Victorian Trades Hall Council, on 11 October 1999 (accorded by solidarity organisations and Australian trade unions to honour the East Timorese Leader's historic visit to Australia) the  Leading Eelam Tamil Activist in Australia - New Zealand, Mr T. Jeyakumar presented the East Timorese Leader, Xanana Gusmao with a chain and medallion on behalf of the Eelam Tamils and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) .

The coin medallion depicted the Tamil homeland embossed on one side and the emblem of the Liberation Tigers on the other side. On behalf of Eelam Tamils, Mano Navaratnam expressed the Tamil people's solidarity with the people of East Timor  in the struggle for self determination. She said that  the Eelam Tamils knew the pain the East Timorese have suffered because of their own experiences of torture and atrocities under the brutal occupation of Sri Lankan military. The Tamils were overwhelmed and happy by this victory of the Timorese liberation movement, she said.

Xanana Gusmao
Tamil Activist T.Jaya Kumar
presenting medallion to East Timor Leade
Xanana Gusmao
Xanana Gusmao displaying medallion

Xanana Gusmao
Xanana Gusmao with Mano Navaratam at Microphone

Ana Parajasingham, Editor, Tamil Monitor,
Australasia Federation of Tamil Associations

September, 1999

After a twenty-four year struggle, East Timor is about to emerge as an independent state. Despite the genocidal violence unleashed against the East Timorese and the covert and overt support extended to the Indonesian Government, the will of the East Timorese nation has finally prevailed. The East Timorese people have shown their indomitable spirit by braving the Indonesian backed militia to vote for independence. It is now up to the International Governments to back this show of courage by supporting the Timorese people in this hour of their greatest need.

The East Timorese story is the story of all oppressed people whose quest for freedom can never be suppressed. Governments may well try to beat the population into submission and for a time may even succeed in keeping the rebellion in check through collaborators, mercenaries, 'moderates' and to use a term that has come into vogue in the East Timorese context-integrationists.

The East Timorese tale is a testimony to the power of the human spirit. It is also a tale of human depravity, greed and hypocrisy.

Within two months of the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975, 60,000 East Timorese were killed and thousands of young women were raped. In the last twenty-four years more than 200,000 East Timorese have died as a result of this occupation during which massacres and 'disappearances' had become everyday occurrences. Western countries not only failed to condemn these atrocities but, instead, have provided overt and covert support to the Indonesian regime while professing and preaching human rights to the rest of the world..

US President Ford was in Jakarta two days before Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and there is little doubt had given his approval to the Indonesian action.

Canada has either abstained from voting on UN General Assembly resolutions on East Timor or has voted No in support of Indonesia. Indonesia has been one of Canada's top recipients of country-to country aid for a very long time.

The West's rationale was best articulated by an official of the Australian Foreign Affairs in the mid 1970's, who had this to say, 

"I don't see what you are getting excited about! The plain fact is that there are only 700,000 Timorese; what we are really concerned about is our relationship with 130,000,000 Indonesians."  (East Timor: Genocide in Paradise, Odonian Press, Arizona, 1995)

Like the East Timorese, the Tamil people too have suffered much. They have been driven out of their homes and almost a million have been made internal refugees, half a million have fled the Island, at least 60,000 Tamil civilians have been killed, their main city (Jaffna) has been occupied by the Sri Lankan army and is now an "open prison" and a "hell hole" ( ABC's Foreign Correspondent 28 June 1999).

Mass graves, massacres and disappearances continue to occur. Yet, the Sri Lankan Government has been unable to beat the Tamils into submission. On the contrary, the Tamil people have shown their defiance by silently enduring their suffering while boldly exposing the Government's atrocities. The Sri Lankan Government, has been unable to suppress the news of  mass graves in Jaffna or the disappearances of Tamil youth in the hundreds. The use of mercenaries to suppress the only free newspaper in Jaffna has been thwarted because the Tamils have defied the army's presence  to protest. (Tamil Monitor 3 September 1999)

The role of the West in respect of the situation in Tamil Eelam has not been any different to that  in respect of the East Timorese. The Tamil rebels have been deemed "terrorist" by the US State department and the "Green Berets" have been dispatched to provide training to the Sri Lankan military.

The Australian Government's policy has been to support the Sri Lankan Government in that the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan regime are pointedly ignored while the Tamil rebels are condemned for acts of violence. This is so despite mounting evidence of the genocidal nature of the Sri Lankan Government's actions.

Canada and the UK are more circumspect but their policies are no different. The West European countries (Germany, France and Switzerland) home to over 250,000 Tamil refugees have remained aloof despite having to pay an economic price. Meanwhile, the West in general is bankrolling the war by providing aid and loans through various institutions.

The Tamil quest for independence began twenty-two years ago when they voted overwhelmingly for the party that stood for the restoration of Tamil sovereignty by electing 18 of the 22 members to parliament at the general elections held in August 1977.  The TULF manifesto read:

"The General election of 1977 is a crucial one to the Tamil Nation. ... In the Tamil territory, the question to be resolved is whether the Tamils want their freedom or continued servitude�� What is the alternative now left to the Nation that has lost its rights to its language, rights to its citizenship, rights to its religions and continues day by day to lose its traditional homeland to Sinhalese colonisation ? What is the alternative now left to a Nation that has lost its opportunities to higher education through standardisation and its  equality in opportunities in the sphere of employment ? What is the  alternative to a Nation that lies helpless as it is being assaulted, looted and killed by hooligans instigated by the ruling race and by the security  forces of the State? Where else is an alternative to the Tamil Nation that  gropes in the dark for its identity and finds itself driven to the brink of    devastation? There is only one alternative and that is to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude that 'we alone shall rule over our land that our forefathers ruled. Sinhalese imperialism shall quit our Homeland'...

Almost seventy percent of the Tamils in Tamil Eelam cast their vote for independence.

But that mandate was ignored by the Government which sought to 'solve' the problem by beating the Tamils into submission. The result was the state-sponsored massacre of 1977. The democratically elected TULF was helpless and despite its readiness to accept even limited autonomy its plea was ignored. In 1981, the Jaffna Public Library with a collection of over 95,000 books (including several rare manuscripts and books) was burnt down by the Police running amok in a further attempt to beat the Tamils  into submission by destroying their cultural heritage. In July 1983, Tamils living in the South were subject to the worst pogrom in years. Over 3,000 Tamils were killed within a fortnight and property belonging to the Tamils destroyed by squads armed with electoral lists which enabled the �goons� to identify Tamil homes. Since then the Tamil death toll has mounted.

The parallels between Tamil Eelam and East Timor are many and varied.

Both people have been  treated by the dominant nation as 'minorities' to be integrated into the dominant nations.

In February 1990, Indonesian Foreign Minister at that time,   Benny Murdani, had this to say: "there is no such nation as a Timtim nation (the Indonesian name for East Timor), there is only an Indonesian nation.. If you try to make your own state it will be crushed"

In February 1994, D B Wijetunge, Sri Lanka's President at that time had this to say "The majority community in this country are the Sinhalese. Therefore the Sinhalese should govern the country. They governed the country in the past and will do so in the future"

Both the Indonesian Government and the Sri Lankan Government have sought to impose their dominance by changing the demography of the region which they have sought to control.

 Indonesian authorities over the last twenty-four years have actively encouraged Indonesians to migrate to East Timor under the guise of relieving population pressures. Land given to the Indonesians is land formerly owned by East Timorese who were forcibly relocated  or land declared 'underutilized'. As a result by 1992 almost one seventh of the population of East Timor was made up of  Indonesians.

Similarly Planned state sponsored settlement of landless Sinhala peasants in the Tamil Homeland has been the policy of all of the  Sri Lankan  Governments since the 1950's. According to Dr. Selvanathan of the School of International Business Relations at Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland:

�One  of the most vicious forms of oppression of Tamils by successive Sri Lankan Governments is the destruction of the national identity of the Tamils through government-sponsored aggressive colonisation schemes....(Selvanathan E A,  The Oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sacramento: Proceedings of the Tamil Eelam Research Conference, 1991)

It is a view supported by the observations of two British parliamentarians (Robert Kilroy Silk MP and Roger Simms MP) who visited Sri Lanka as members of the UK Parliamentary  Humans Rights Group in 1985 who had this to say:

�We can say, without much doubt, that the government is driving the Tamils from their homes and does intend to settle Sinhalese People in these areas�.

However, in one crucial aspect the Tamil people have been fortunate. Whereas,  Indonesia with its superior fire-power and huge Western support was able to militarily crush the FRETILIN (The East Timorese rebel forces), the Sri Lankan Government has not been able to crush the Tamil resistance militarily. On the contrary, the LTTE has become even more capable of resisting the attacks and defending their people. The defeat of the FRETLIN was made  partly possible because Indonesia's success in weakening the FRETLIN by encouraging a rival faction (UDT) to take up arms against the FRETLIN. The major reason  of course was Indonesia's superior firepower and utter ruthlessness in massacring anyone suspected to be a FRETLIN fighter or even  a potential fighter.

The LTTE has not only survived but has  emerged even stronger because of its ability to be acutely aware of the dangers posed by  collaborators in the guise of 'moderates'  and its leader's politico/military capabilities. The LTTE's decision to withdraw into the Vanni along with 400,000 people in the face of Sri Lanka's superior fire-power in 1995 was indeed a  decision which has, today, saved thousands of young Tamils from a fate similar to the East Timorese in 1975.

The current situation in East Timor is a powerful reminder that despite all the goodwill and sympathy of decent people, no nation can afford to rely on goodwill alone. The East Timorese who are being hunted down like animals by Indonesian backed thugs have no army to defend them. Those who are so anxious to preach to the oppressed about the virtues of non violence (like our Foreign Minister) can only  wring their hands while East Timorese are being slaughtered or express hollow sympathy and concern while the massacres continue unabated.



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