Tamil leader: freedom struggle is not over

Protest in solidarity with the Tamil struggle for self-determination. Sydney, 2009. Photo: Peter Boyle

Father S.J. Emmanuel, president of the Global Tamil Forum, spoke at a Melbourne meeting of about 400 people on February 13. He said that while the civil war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was over, the struggle for the rights of Tamils living in Sri Lanka continues in a new way.

The war officially ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan army. But the Sri Lankan government is now carrying out what Emmanuel described as a policy of "genocide", attempting to wipeout any trace of Tamil existence in Sri Lanka.

He said the government has bulldozed Tamil military cemeteries and has used the land to build tourist hotels. It has escalated state-sponsored "colonisation", establishing Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas with the aim of changing the demography.

Forty thousand Sinhalese military personnel remain as an occupying army in the traditional Tamil areas of the north and east of the island. The soldiers are building houses in the region for themselves and their families.

The names of roads and villages are being changed from the Tamil to the Sinhala language. Sinhalese businesspeople are flooding into Tamil areas, employing Tamils mostly as manual labourers.

Emmanuel said that, because the Tamils living under extreme oppression inside Sri Lanka are unable to speak out freely, the more than 1 million Tamils living overseas, must play a leading role in the struggle.

A referendum was held among Tamils in several countries, including Australia, in 2010. More than 98% voted to reaffirm their support for Tamil national self-determination.

Emmanuel discussed the organisation of Tamils in the diaspora, saying that in addition to the “peoples’ organisations” that involve many Tamils in various countries, Tamils also need an international leadership that can engage with bodies such as the United Nations.

Steps towards building such a leadership include the creation of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, and the formation of the Global Tamil Forum.

In response to a question about what demands Tamil solidarity activists should put on the Australian government, Emmanuel said that it should welcome refugees rather than labelling them as a “threat”.

He said the Australian government should also take up the demand for justice in Sri Lanka in international forums such as the Commonwealth.

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