Sri Lanka's war on Tamils escalates

Fifteen-thousand people fled from the town of Vaharai in eastern Sri Lanka following heavy shelling by the Sri Lankan army on January 18. According to the Tamilnet website, the shelling was intensified in the evening despite an urgent message sent to the International Committee of the Red Cross from Vaharai hospital authorities saying that the area around the hospital, where many displaced people had sought refuge, was under attack.

The Tamil people of Vaharai had been under attack for many months. The Sri Lankan army has maintained a total embargo on supplies to the area since October 2006. As a result, the United Nations office in Colombo stated that "15,000 people are isolated without access to food or basic supplies as stocks are decimated". The January 10 Tamil Guardian added that 20,000 people had already left the area in December.

During 2006, Tamils came under attack from the Sri Lankan army in all the predominantly Tamil areas of the north and east of the island. The Jaffna peninsula has been subject to an economic blockade. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: "Limited access by land to the peninsula has impeded the population from receiving sufficient food, medicine and other essential supplies since August 2006."

But the most intense attacks on the Tamil population have occurred in the east. The aim appears to be to drive Tamils out of certain areas and replace them with members of Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority in order to prevent the creation of a united Tamil homeland. This policy, referred to as "colonisation", is similar to the Israeli policy of using Jewish settlements to divide up the West Bank in order to make a Palestinian state unviable.

In the January 10 Tamil Guardian, Jana Nayagam wrote that "In practice that means ensuring regions where Tamils constitute a majority are demographically undermined. And that, as can be expected, means colonisation, ethnic cleansing and the redrawing of boundaries ...

"Almost every decade since the 1950s has seen such state-aided colonisation projects being implemented, supported by official and paramilitary violence against the Tamils."

Nayagam also noted the collusion of the "international community" (i.e. the United States and its allies) in the Sri Lankan state's war on the Tamils: "Even now, despite the dire situation in Vaharai and Verugal, Rajapakse's fundamental policy of mass displacement has been met with silence (read tacit approval) by the international community ...

"It should be remembered that the Sri Lankan military, including most of its senior officers, have all been trained by the United States and likeminded states.

"It should also be remembered that the vast war machine that Rajapakse inherited and is now unleashing had been carefully rebuilt since 2002 with international assistance and funding."

Nayagam argued that the current crisis "is not a consequence of the international community being unable to influence Sri Lanka's internal politics. Rather it is the reverse. It is because, despite all the warning signs, the international community actively intervened to stack the cards against the Tamils and to reinforce the Sinhala-dominated state against them."

On January 9, an attempt to hold a peace rally at Nugegoda in Sri Lanka's predominantly Sinhalese south was disrupted when a gang of thugs led by deputy labour minister Mervin Silva attacked the organisers and journalists before the start of the event.

The rally was planned by the United Peoples Movement, a newly formed organisation that opposes the government's war on the Tamils, and favours a federal system for Sri Lanka as a way of resolving the ethnic conflict.

Srithunge Jayasooriya, one of the rally organisers, told a press conference: "We envisaged the rally to explain to the Sinhala masses about the cruelty of war and the atrocities committed against innocent Tamils by the government. We had obtained permission beforehand to hold the rally at Nugegoda from Mirihana Police. Nevertheless, police contacted us the previous night and requested us to cancel the rally as they expected the rally could come under attack. We expressed our firm commitment [to go ahead with] our plan and instead asked them to beef up security and take stern actions against the would-be disrupters.

"When we were busy with the initial arrangements of the rally around 2.30pm, deputy minister Mervin Silva and a notorious drug dealer 'Kudu Lal' came to the spot with nearly 75 men armed with batons and started attacking the people on the stage."

Jayasooriya added that the attacks occurred "in the very presence of the police personnel".