Sri Lanka forum discusses war and elections


On November 29, 50 people attended a forum on Sri Lanka organised by People for Human Rights and Equality, a multi-ethnic group comprising people of Sri Lankan origin living in Australia.

Ahmed Farouk spoke of the position of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, Muslims living in the east of the island were Tamil speakers while those living elsewhere were bilingual in Tamil and Sinhalese, though most spoke Tamil at home. Farouk described the government's discrimination against Tamil speakers, and stressed the need to ensure their rights are respected.

Jude Prakash described huge protests by the Tamil diaspora against the massacre of 30,000 Tamils by the government earlier this year, and the detention of 300,000 Tamils in concentration camps.

He said a new leadership was developing in the diaspora, which is organising democratically through bodies such as the Australian Tamil Congress. He said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were formed only after decades of peaceful struggle for Tamil rights had failed, and that the Sri Lankan government was responsible for the failure of attempts at a peaceful solution.

Some in the audience disputed this, blaming the LTTE, but Prakash pointed out that, following the defeat of the LTTE, the government still hasn't implemented its past promises to the Tamils.

Aid worker John Ball spoke of the 130,000 Tamils still in the camps. He called for freedom of movement and help in rebuilding destroyed houses and infrastructure. He called for access by the Red Cross to imprisoned LTTE cadres.

Lionel Bopage described how the Sri Lankan government continued to militarise society and violate democratic rights despite the end of the war. People are also suffering economically due to inflation and unemployment.

Bopage discussed the upcoming Sri Lankan elections. He said the two main candidates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former army commander Sarath Fonseka, share responsibility for the conduct of the war. Another candidate, Vickramabahu Karunaratne, is a socialist who has campaigned against the war and for Tamil rights.