Sri Lanka: Let the Tamils govern themselves

August 23, 2008

The Sri Lankan government's war against the Tamil people is intensifying.

Civilians are worst affected by the ongoing bloody war in the north of Sri Lanka, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) runs its own affairs in a de facto state where close to 400,000 people live.

According to the latest reports emerging from the Vanni district in the north, half of the population have been displaced and living under subhuman condition for the past two-and-a-half months as Sri Lanka stepped up daily sea, land and air attacks on these people.

The three-decades-old civil war in Sri Lanka has killed at least 215,000 people, mostly Tamils according to the surveys done by the UN World Health Organisation.

Sri Lanka consists largely of Sinhalese Buddhists, who are a majority, and Tamils, a minority who struggling for the right to self-determination for the last 60 years and who are mostly Hindu.

In January, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, disavowed a 2002 ceasefire that Norwegian mediators had negotiated between the government and the LTTE. Ceasefire monitors from several Nordic countries were sent back by the Sri Lankan government and it escalated the military attacks on Tamils in the country's north and east.

The LTTE responded with attacks on Sri Lankan Army forces in these areas, as well as bombings in the capital, Colombo.

The government has opted to attempt to end the conflict by escalating its bloody military advancement into the LTTE-run areas in order to win the war. Political and military leaders speak of crushing the Tigers by the end of the year.

Amnesty International has reported that within the past 24 months, hundreds of people have reportedly been abducted by the Sri Lankan Security Forces or armed groups in the north and east of Sri Lanka, as well as elsewhere in the country, including Colombo.

Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch has cited rights abuses such as enforced mass abductions, mass disappearances, unlawful execution-style summary killings, mass murders, tortures, rapes, destruction of personal, public and cultural properties, forceful displacements and the unwillingness and inability of the Sri Lankan state to control the worsening rights situation as the reasons for its call for a UN monitoring mission.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has statedthat, "The government fearing that international reports on violations of human rights may lead to the sending of UN human rights monitors or other forms of intervention, rather believes that silencing critics is the way to avoid the situation. Thus, aggressive rhetoric has become a characteristic of spokesmen for the government."

The reality is Sri Lanka is responsible for large-scale disappearances, abductions and killings of Tamil civilians and has failed to take all steps necessary to stop the practice of state terrorism.

Asian powers China, Pakistan and India are competing for influence in Sri Lanka. These reasons alone help further prolong the region's longest armed struggle as solutions to the conflict become more complex.

The UN, US, EU, India and many other world powers agree that the conflict must be resolved politically, not militarily, and that a lasting solution will require Singhalese leaders to concede meaningful and substantial self-rule to the Tamils in the combined north and east of Sri Lanka.

Perhaps a solution of creating two nations, where both Singhala and Tamil nations live side by side, would help maintain a permanent peace.

Sir Hugh Cleghorn wrote in June 1799 to the British government on the Tamils and Singhalease: "Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the Island. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts, and secondly the Malabars (Tamils) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners."

Refusing to accept this reality and attempting to resolve the conflict with high risk military operations against the Tamils has currently embarked on — can only produce more suffering for all people of Sri Lanka, with serious consequences for generations to come.

[Reprinted from]

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